I usually do not spend much time thinking about feet, but when I do I must confess that the words “No Trespassing” come to mind. I am not sure when or how I developed such an aversion to having someone mess with my feet. During my childhood, my Dad would wrestle with my brother, two sisters, and myself. Perhaps holding us down and tickling our feet left a permanent mark deep within me. Or maybe I cannot shake the thought of the many times one of my three precious girls would come and tickle my feet while I was peacefully resting in the permanent indention of my recliner. The thought of their little eyes peering over the foot rest brings warmth to my heart and yet confirms the reality of how much I dislike people messing with my feet.
I have always assumed that because I do not want someone touching my feet all others felt the same way. I was mistaken. During each of my wife’s pregnancies, I was asked, begged, or coerced, depending on your perspective, into massaging her feet. I must admit this was not easy for me. I understand that she was uncomfortable and miserable, but can I just go get the stereotypical pickles and ice cream at 1 AM? After weighing my options, I decided that a few foot massages were probably deserved under the circumstances brought about by pregnancy. Ultimately, my love for my wife overcame my phobia of feet and made getting out of my comfort zone bearable and even rewarding. I knew that this simple act helped make the pregnancy more endurable for my wife. Even in this simple act of massaging my wife’s feet I realized that there was nothing I would not do for her because of the love I have for her and she has for me.
All of this talk about feet leads us into one of the most powerful acts Jesus performed, and there was not one miracle to be found. John 13:1-17 is the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. This is the first story written by John in the second major part of the Gospel. The first major section of the Gospel focused on the signs Jesus performed which showed that he is the light shining in the darkness. This second section begins to show how he is also the light who will overcome the darkness. Jesus is clearly focused on the cross and the rest of the Gospel of John builds to the culmination of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
These next few chapters of John’s Gospel are powerful and amazing, but the section begins with the simple yet profound act of washing feet. Imagine what the disciples must have been thinking when Jesus, the Messiah, takes off his outer clothes, wraps a towel around his waist and proceeds to reach for their rough, dirty and smelly feet. Feet stained with the dirt from the roads of Jerusalem Jesus and the disciples had recently walked as Jesus entered the city with cries of “Hosanna” and “Blessed is the king of Israel.” Now this king, this Messiah is bowing before them and washing their feet. As Jesus scrubs and cleans the disciples’ feet his hands are stained with the dirt and grime that have built up after the miles of walking. The “King of kings,” “Lord of lords,” humbling himself to take up the work of a common slave. The silence in the room must have been deafening, only broken by the splashing of water. Surely the disciples simply sat in awe of what they were experiencing and witnessing. Jesus, washing each of their feet, even the feet of the one who would commit the ultimate act of betrayal.
When Jesus finishes, he no doubt has the complete attention of the disciples, and he says, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (13:14-15). This last week of Jesus’ life was not just about defeating sin and death. Jesus is showing the disciples and us what living a life in Christ is all about. Jesus is demonstrating the true nature what following him is all about; serving. We are called to serve God which means we serve others. Jesus does not simply talk about serving or give some spiritual, mystical definition of what serving means. Jesus physically serves through the washing of feet and ultimately through giving his body to be crucified. If this is the example the Savior of the world gives to use, what does that mean for us?
As Christians we are called to serve as Jesus served. This means we get our hands dirty. Serving as Christ served will take us to places where we are out of our comfort zone. We should not settle for talking about serving or simply applauding when others serve, we need to grab a rag and start washing feet. This may mean going to people overlooked by society and offering them the love of Christ through serving them. One thing is clear, when we serve as Jesus served our hands will get dirty.
Our first thought may be that we can never serve as Christ, but when we open our hearts to the amazing love Christ has shown us through his mighty acts of service we find ourselves compelled to respond. God’s gracious love motivates and strengthens us to live the life of a servant. Are you getting your hands dirty for God?