Posts Tagged ‘foot washing’

That is the point. Forgiveness. Unless you’re fine with all that, you know, fine with the things you’ve said and thought, fine with the choice you made that hurt someone else, fine with the way things worked out when you lied, fine with the time you looked away, fine with your plenty in the face of another’s scarcity, fine with the status quo. But if you’re not, if you want to turn a corner and do life differently, then, there’s this:

woman_crying_1Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” [Luke 7:47-49, NIV]

Who indeed?

We each have had a way in which we do life. For some, it was an upper middle class dream with plenty of food on the table, two (or more) cars in the driveway, and college tuition paid out of a well-thought out plan. Others grew up under a cloud of smoke and the smell of stale beer, got lost in math class and never caught up, accepted a minimum wage job and bolstered their income with a few illegal drug deals or sex for hire. Some of us skated and while others drowned.

To choose a savior, a kind of help that can turn a life’s direction requires an experience of awareness, a moment of revelation, an epiphany if you will, before forgiveness even comes into the picture, before surrender is possible, before faith can be born.

I cannot make that happen for anyone else. I can only tell you my story.

For, like the woman who drenched Jesus’s feet with her tears, I too have nothing but gratefulness for this same Jesus, who, by the power of Spirit, which makes this three-dimensional world  pale in its atmosphere, I capitulated my former understanding of the way of the world. I am changed. Forgiven.

And now I am asked to do likewise. To forgive the “you’s” in my life who failed me and hurt me and shamed me; to forgive myself for my self-indulgences and false starts. To forgive daily.

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Print by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld's (1794-1872)

Print by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld’s (1794-1872)

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. . . . “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”  Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”  [John 13:3-5, 8]

Jesus wanted to make a lasting impression. It’s not like he hadn’t talked about service and humility and lifting up others above oneself. But like so many of the parables and stories, he decided to create a picture, not just with words, but with actions. And yet, only John shares this story. Was it so humiliating? Did they fear the story would belie their claims of Jesus as the Messiah? After all, would the Messiah wash the feet of a mere fisherman? But for John, this was a critical illustration that could not be ignored.

And yet, the symbolic sharing of bread and wine at the meal is excluded by John. Clearly, for him, the foot washing was the most significant. And before that, the anointing of Jesus’s feet by Mary is told in detail. This too is bypassed by the other storytellers, except Luke, who doesn’t even identify the woman.

The significance of leadership and the self-abasement of feet is somehow important.

I never realized how much I under-appreciated my feet until I started having pain in the big toe of my left foot. Sometimes, it was so miserable, I couldn’t walk but a few steps. Every shoe had to pass the pain test before I would leave the bedroom. I tried everything from heat to cold to massage and acupuncture. I started wearing sandals everywhere (and not flipflops because the band would cut directly across the pain spot). Pretty soon, the pain started waking me up at night. Finally, I gave in and went to the doctor. The podiatrist was a little stumped because nothing really showed up in my x-rays or cat scan. In the end, he went ahead and did a bunionectomy even though my baby bunion was not the real problem. I think he just wanted to get in there and look around. It took almost three months to recover full use of my foot again . . . and of course, within a few months, the pain was back, not as acute, but still, there.

The podiatrist was not happy to see me again and said there was nothing more he could do. He gave me a referral to a physical therapist. I delayed that appointment for weeks out of embarrassment. I mean, really, a physical therapist for my toe??? And yet, I finally had no choice. Almost a year after my surgery, I gave in and went to the therapist. He was a really nice guy and I even told him my tale of embarrassment. The prescription was primarily deep massage.

The healing came through touch.

We don’t touch each other very much in our culture. Oh, we may hug and air kiss and we might shake hands or pat someone’s back. But a genuine touch, a focused touch, a touch with intent; now that makes a difference.

I have had massages off and on throughout the years, but only once did I have a massage by a believer who prayed over me throughout the experience. It was literally, life changing.

When Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, I don’t think he poured water out of a measuring cup or use handy wipes. He prepared them for the journey ahead. He healed them from the bottom up. He made them part of himself through touch: intimate and necessary.

I have written and will perform a monologue tomorrow evening at our Good Friday service and at one point, she says, “And if they [sinners and the the sick] were lucky, he would touch them: just so, just so.”

Touch me Lord. Wash my feet. Heal me. Prepare me for the days to come. The journey I have yet to walk.


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Mary and Jesus FeetThen Mary took about a pintof pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” [John 12:3-5]

I just got the real picture of Mary and the nard (spikenard oil) and Jesus’s feet. In the past, while reading this passage and other similar ones about a woman who washed or anointed Jesus and then used her hair afterwards, I imagined her holding her long strands of hair to wipe like a cloth. But now I see differently. It’s more like nuzzling. I wish I could explain more clearly what I see in my head, this women kissing, embracing, stroking and pressing her head to Jesus’s feet (or head or hands or mantel); holding him close to her face, her lips, her hair. I think about my own ways of  holding close my kids or my pets. I put them right up to my face and hair, cheek to cheek, head to head. It’s intimate, it’s loving, it’s tender.

Essentially, I don’t believe this act was about washing or cleansing. Instead, it was purely a demonstrative act of love. And I suppose it could be called a humble act but love, but then, in its purest form, isn’t love humble anyway. At least it should be.

Judas’s response is more dramatic in hindsight. After all, we know now, he was the betrayer. But, in that moment, his reaction told a different story: he revealed his inability to recognize love. Following Jesus was never about love, it was about freedom. He must have been a “reasoning” man: perhaps even calculating. His passion was the overthrow of the Romans, the victory of the long-awaited Messiah who would bring Israel back to its former glory. For him, Mary’s act was, at best, sentimental and certainly a waste of resources. He was pragmatic and eventually (sooner than later), this led him to choose unwisely, to “move things along,” to force Jesus’s hand (without knowing what that would really look like). Judas did not expect his rabbi to be crucified. Instead, he expected an uprising of great proportions, a revolution. But he never understood the real revolution was in the heart.

Mary’s heart was already set free. She loved Jesus with abandon.

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John 13:10a
Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean….”

So what could this mean? It’s fairly well accepted that foot washing is a sign of serving others: the willingness to do the most menial of tasks for another person. Prior to beginning the washing of feet, John reports that Jesus’s intentions were to show the “full extent of his love” for the disciples [John 13:1] But why does he also say that only the feet need to be washed?

Feet are funny things. They carry so much throughout our lives. They are our stability and a part of our balancing acts. They are the primary way we move from one place to another. They are a foundation. We usually forget about our feet unless they hurt. Plus, anyone can attest to the fact that there’s nothing worse than stinky feet! 🙂

But what other meanings can be gleaned from Jesus’s act of washing only the feet? I think the symbolism is in tandem with the the other pronouncement about feet in Mark 6:11: “And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.” By washing their feet, the disciples were starting fresh and new. Whatever happened before, while they walked with Jesus or went out in His name in ministry, whatever shaking they did or dust they collected, would be washed away. From that day of foot washing, everything would be different. It was a turning point in their lives.

Sometimes it’s important to create a physical representation of renewal. If you want to mark a day, then wash your feet, prayerfully. If you are ministering to someone who needs to mark that day, wash his/her feet. This is the small revelation I had today. This is my next step… with clean feet.

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