For most people, feet are the grossest part of the human body. They are probably so gross because they bear up the rest of the weight of our body and we’re constantly using them. They endure the most wear and tear. You can run a marathon and feel your feet ache, but it doesn’t take 26.2 miles to really put your feet through a whooping. Just standing at a cash register ringing up people’s groceries for eight hours is enough to make your dogs bark. Wearing uncomfortable dress shoes and nylon dress socks will make them ache and sweat. Just daily walking from place to place puts our feet through a beating- to the store, to the bus stop, to a friend’s house. They get smelly and sweaty, they get calloused, they get achey, they get blisters, they get athlete’s foot, they get sandy or dirty, they get stubbed toes. It’s no secret that feet are often worn and unattractive as a result of the strain they endure. Our daughter has known that feet are yucky since she was 6 months old. She will grab one of her feet, pull it close to her nose, and exclaim, “Ewwwww! Stinky!”
At Jesus’ last supper, he gets up from his seat at the dinner table, grabs a towel and some water, and begins to wash his disciples’ feet. I can only imagine what kind of sad shape their feet were in. Jesus and his disciples are constantly walking around and they probably travel many miles every day. I am pretty sure that they didn’t make gel inserts for the leather sandals of the 1st century. Their feet were probably calloused, blistery, dirty from the dust of the road, and achey from the miles of traveling around with Jesus.
Jesus gets on his hands and knees and washes all of these unattractive and tired feet. It is no wonder that Peter is completely shocked by this act. Here is a respected teacher, but even more than that, here is God’s anointed King and Savior washing dirty, stinky, tired feet. This was a job reserved for the lowest of servants, yet here is the most honorable and esteemed person, God’s own Son, scrubbing feet. This kind of work is beneath Jesus- literally and figuratively. Jesus flips the ideas of honor completely on its head. Those who are honorable, good, and respectable should be the first one’s to serve their neighbors. They are to do so without fear of embarrassment.
Jesus met his disciples literally where the rubber- or more accurately, the leather sandal- hits the road. He meets us where we are no matter where that might be. He comes to care for and love us in the parts of our lives that are unattractive, smelly, dirty, calloused, and worn out. He pours the soothing waters of baptism over our aching and tired lives. He comes to us in the places that have endured the most pain and have born the most weight of our heavy lives. He comes to the places that are best left unseen.
He washes our feet just as he washed his disciples’ feet. Jesus is not above the humiliating work. Shame means nothing to him if it means he can serve, heal, and save us. Jesus gives of himself fully and to the very end. We remember that self-giving of Jesus in the way in which we recall how he scrubbed dirty feet the night before he was crucified and how he instituted a meal of his own body and blood for our nourishment. Jesus serves fully- whether that means scrubbing feet, enduring ridicule and pain, or even giving his life.
The “Maundy” in Maundy Thursday means “mandate” or “commandment.” We remember on this day that Jesus gives us a commandment to love each other even as Jesus has loved us. Through his act of self-giving love and disregard of shame and pride, Jesus calls us to care for each other. If the Son of God isn’t too good to serve and get close to the unattractive and painful parts of our lives and our world, we certainly aren’t too good for that kind of work either. This may sound like a burden to bear, but it is also a great gift. Through Christ’s work and example we can believe that God has called us all around the same table. The false barriers of pride, shame, and fear do not apply when love is in the mix. Love is powerful enough to overcome any boundary. Oscar Romero, a Catholic archbishop who was murdered 35 years ago for preaching against the atrocities his government was committing in El Salvador, said this about love:
Romero believed with his whole being that in the face of oppression, injustice, greed, violence, and death itself- whatever the world could possibly throw at us- love would have its way. Love would triumph over hate and death and the love of God would bring us closer to each other and continue to hold us close to God’s own heart. Archbishop Romero believed in this truth so fully that he acted as though hatred and violence wouldn’t prevail against love. He boldly preached God’s love and as a result, he was shot and killed while presiding over Communion as the Christians gathered remembered Christ’s unrestrained love and the love he frees us to give to others. Romero died, but the good news of Christ that he proclaimed lives on and continues to inspire the church and the world today.
The Messiah came to wash feet. Do not let the absurdity of that statement fade away. The Messiah came to serve in the places that are the most unattractive, smelly, tired, calloused, overlooked, and dirty. Transforming humiliation into devout and honorable service, he nurtures and cleanses us from the weariness, pain, and shame of our lives. In so doing, he calls us and empowers us to share that unstoppable and life-giving love that was first given to us.