Feet, with their unique toes, are marvellous and intriguing human appendages. Years ago, I easily identified my fiancee from a group of ‘hidden’ men by identifying him by his toes. When we get to know our babies, we marvel at their fingers and toes, and get to know them well, too, as we clean their hands and feet repeatedly. We even memorialize their footprints in sidewalks and plates of plaster.
But in our wider social circles feet, and caring for them, are a rather private matter. Unless we’re active in health or body care industries, it is unusual for us to touch each other’s feet. Even as Christians.
Many North American Christians therefore have ambivalent responses to Jesus’ statement, “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.”(John 13: 14-15) That sounds pretty clear, and yet foot-washing is a relatively uncommon practice among us.
And yet this year’s World Day of Prayer (March 3) focuses on foot-washing. The women of Bahamas chose the text and prepared the worship resources. These women are over represented in the manual labour end of Bahamas’ tourist industry. Many of them will regularly have sore and dirty feet that need care at the end of a long work day. Here are a few inspiring points these foot weary women share with the rest of us.
1) When Jesus washed his disciples feet he revealed the radical nature of his love for them and for the world. Washing guest’s feet was a job for a household servant to carry out when guests arrived, but Jesus showed the disciples the full extent of his humble love, by reversing roles and washing their feet as Jesus, the teacher.
2) Peter resisted being served by his teacher, Jesus, in this way, but learns that it is integral to living and serving with him. The Bahamian writers make the point that “we must all be washed by Jesus if we want to live and serve with love.” I wonder what it would mean if we remembered that each time we washed our own feet; each time we washed the feet of those we care for. What would it do to our relationship with Jesus?
3) Jesus’ radical love transforms us to be ” the servant of servants” as he was. Just imagine the transforming, dignifying impact this concept must have for those who work in the underpaid service industry! They write that “radical love comes from humbleness, compassion, and commitment… It is not servility. It can’t be confused with ways and systems that reproduce racism, classism, sexism, abuse, or fear.” But they identify it with the silent feet of proud Bahamian women as they stood for their right to vote, in the resiliency of their farmers, fishermen and women as they engage their menial labours with dignity, and as they experience the waves wash their feet even as the rising sun warms and touches their skin with the gentle spirit of freedom and liberation.
4) They remind us of Jesus’ question, “Do you know what I have done to you?” If he, who was God and human at the same time, displayed an attitude of humility and service, we must embrace every opportunity to exemplify him.
They have taught us well. May we take their clear articulation of Jesus’ attitudes to heart and love one another with humble radicality. Does that mean we’ll actually wash each other’s feet this Friday? There are some timid preparations for us to do so at St. Margaret’s Anglican Church, where I’ll be providing some input.
What insights do you have into this uncommon Christian practice of foot washing? What insights will you have after March 3rd? Join the service in your neighbourhood and give these words of Jesus another chance to wash your soul.