April 13, 2017
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Shera Nesheim, Deacon
What if you walked into Burger King to order a whopper, and the President Of The United States was behind the till and asked to take your order?
What if you walked into your algebra class tomorrow and found all your teachers sitting in their desks, waiting for a lesson from you?
What if you were the youngest child in your family but found yourself responsible for caring for your aging parent, perhaps taking them to the bathroom, or bathing your own mother.
What if a King knelt before his servant’s filthy feet, grabbed a towel and began gently washing them clean?
Typically in Biblical times, an unnoticed servant would take a guests’ sandals off upon entering a home and wash the grime off their feet to not bring in any extra dirt, especially before sitting at a meal. The fact that Jesus, on the night before his death, would spend time with his students and friends, kneeling and bent over their feet seems strange and almost unbelievable.
The disciples have walked many dusty miles following Jesus. They have witnessed Jesus do many radical and crazy things: Jesus turning water into wine, chatting with a gentile woman at a well, spitting into dirt and making a blind man see, raising a man from the dead…but they didn’t expect that their LORD would take the role of a lowly servant, and do the unnoticed, disgusting work of washing sandal tanned, cracked, calloused and dirty feet. Just like they didn’t expect that their messiah would be brutally executed like a criminal in the days to come.
Let’s face it. We all have dirty feet that we don’t want to show anyone. I mean this realistically and figuratively. The last thing we want to do is expose the nasty ingrown toenails, the smelly and gross parts of our life that have been hidden in secret. What are you hiding? What am I hiding? May it be lying on your taxes, cheating on a test, stealing from your friends, judging yourself or others, jealousy or failures. But we can’t hide our feet from Christ. Take note, Jesus washes ALL of his disciples feet – even Judas who betrays him, even Peter who denies him. In this single act of servanthood for his brothers and sisters, Jesus completely gives grace upon grace to not only his followers, but even those who turn away from their relationship with him.
When we walk through the muck of life we soon find our feet caked with sin and brokenness. When we drive by the homeless person on the street and turn away. When we let our hearts be filled with anger and hate. When we choose drugs over family, when we question our very existence, when we carry grief too heavy to bear… Jesus chooses to kneel before us, and gently remove the layers of hurt and pain to make us clean once more. We will always get dirty feet, and we will always need Jesus to wash them clean. Jesus makes a new way for us to walk back into the world, cleansed by forgiveness and unconditional love from our Savior.
What a gift he gives us! Jesus’ own feet are about to be pierced with violence to a cross and stained with blood, and yet, in these last moments with his friends, he leaves them the gift of grace – that even when the road is dusty and long, they are to remember what their savior has first done for them, and to live out their call to care for one another. Because the best part about this holy pedicure, is not that we simply get to enjoy it for just ourselves. Jesus washes us, so that we can follow Christ by washing others.
The truth is, we cannot become clean on our own. We cannot wash our own feet. Jesus first washes his disciples and then calls on them to wash each other’s feet. The gift and ritual of being washed is shared between two people and within community. It makes us vulnerable to be washed, and it humbles us to do the washing.
Over the course of the last few years we have had the opportunity to get to know youth while they are here and continue to walk with them on their journey toward new life on the “outside.” One young man comes to mind. He was poor and homeless, sometimes sleeping on park benches. When he was here he was fed, safe and warm. He found healing; his feet were washed here. When he returned to the community he worked hard for his family, he walked to work in the pouring rain, he finished high school while working, and he did his best to make ends meet. He would join us weekly at our office in Bismarck and referred to the small group who gathered for Dominoes pizza as “his church.” He was able to use the food pantry there for a little extra support. When his car broke down, we were able to give him a donated bicycle. He had his ups and downs, but he was making it. When he threw a birthday party for his son and invited our church members, we offered to bring items to contribute, and he said he had it covered. We had been helping him for so long, we forgot that he too, wanted to wash our feet.
A couple of months ago he started bringing in items to the food pantry to donate for others to use. Kid’s clothes and shoes, groceries. Small ways in which he felt he could pay it forward, because in his words, “things were good.” It has humbled me to be in relationship with this young man. Sometimes it’s more comfortable for us to wash the other’s feet. To feel like we are making a difference. To help someone out. Sometimes it’s harder to be the one who’s feet are being washed. To be cared for by someone and accept their unconditional love is scary and can be startling. We often feel like we don’t deserve it. Have you felt that way before? Has someone loved you, despite the fact that you have treated them poorly? Has someone offered to make you a meal when you were easing into bringing a baby home, or grieving the loss of your significant other? Has someone given you a hug with a knowing look in their eye that just says, “everything will be okay again, don’t worry.”
The kind of saving love that Jesus offers is scary and startling, it is selfless and it leads him to the cross. Jesus embodies the ultimate role reversal – God in the flesh, God kneeling to serve, God denied and abandoned. God pierced and beaten, hung to die. And yet, Jesus is the unexpected outpouring of grace and love that cleanses us and draws us in, so close to God, that even sin and death does not hold enough power to keep us from him.