My trip to Thailand has brought me new perspective on many levels. It will take me a while to process all that occurred in my heart while I was there, so you will probably be reading “Thailand” blogs for a while to come. Today my experiences there took me to John 13. You see, I have a new appreciation for foot washing.
While I was away I began to understand just how dirty feet can get if you walk everywhere you go. Add in the 90 plus degree temps and you also add in a whole lot of sweat. In Thailand they have foot massage along the streets and in shops everywhere. I took full advantage of these places because my feet needed it! However, despite the time spent with washed and newly massaged feet, I found that the dirt did not stay gone. My feet, along with the rest of me, could not stay clean.
Another interesting tidbit is that in Thailand feet are considered the least holy part of your body. Pointing your foot at someone, even if you are just crossing your legs, is a huge insult to them. Stepping over someone is a big no, no. It is built into Thai culture but also the cultures of many other countries. Honestly, after walking around for a week I could kind of understand how feet could be considered the filth of the body.
This caused me to reexamine John 13 where Jesus washes the feet of the disciples. I can better understand the picture of humility Christ was painting and how radical his gesture was. I can also understand Peter’s reaction to him, “Lord, you will never wash my feet!!” I felt that way in Thailand when complete strangers brought the bowl of water for me to dip my feet into. I apologized to them for the dirt, and the sand-paper roughness. It was embarrassing to me even as I was paying them to do it. Imagine if it was Jesus with the bowl and towel. If it was he who was kneeling at my feet rubbing his hands over my calves and calluses. I feel sure I would have pulled them away to hide them. I would have stood and tried to pull him up from the floor, just like Peter did. We give Peter such a bad rap, but I just love how his response is so real. He knew the feet were the least holy part of the body in his culture. He knew they were dirty and gross, but my guess is he had never thought much about the foot-washers. They were the lowest of the servants. They got the dirtiest jobs, and in that day it was unheard of to do this kind of work yourself or for your friends.
But Jesus always turned everything upside down…even the caste systems of the day. Even the dirtiest part of the body was holy. Even the servants were noticed and valued. It boggled the minds of the people this radical love. He responds to Peter by saying, “If you do not let me wash your feet, you will have no part of me.” Strong words. It is not optional. To be ‘with him’ he must see your dirt. He must be allowed to stroke it with his scarred hands. To touch the dirtiest places you would rather hide. It requires you to humble yourself for him to do so. It requires your pride to fall away so let him see what he already knows is there. I wanted to hang my head in shame when a stranger whom I was paying, whom does this all the time for a job, came to wash my feet. To allow the Lord into the most unholy of places in my life is not an easy thing.
But he doesn’t stop there. Does he ever? Nope, teacher that he is, he goes on to ask a question. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” I notice no one answers since Peter has already been put in his place for totally missing the point. They wisely wait for his explanation which is just as radical as his actions “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. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
This maybe even harder to do than allowing him to wash your own feet. Wash each other’s feet? Are you kidding? Show my dirtiest, least holy parts to someone else? Allow them to not only see, but to wash them? To help wipe away the dust of daily life that collects and hardens. AND do this for others as well? To kneel and ask them to show me the least holy parts of their lives? To sit at their feet as I put my hands in the water that will cleanse away the dirt. This is what he is asking of us. This is what it means to have a part in him. Not to put on masks and hide our true issues from one another, but to allow others into our lives…our real lives…our real issues. To trust that his gentleness with our feet will be returned to us and that we will return it to others is a difficult, seemingly impossible task. He does so lovingly, but humans, in my experience, are not as loving as the Lord. I mean once he has washed our feet can’t we be done? Apparently, the answer is no. Trust me, your feet will get dirty again and again. They will stink, and ache, and look like…well…dirty feet. Yet he says NO servant is greater than his master. If I call myself his, then I must do as he did.
Yet, he does not leave this command hanging in the air. He says, “If you do this you will be blessed for it.” Allowing people into my life, my real life, is hard because it requires laying down my pride, however, when I do it a burden lifts off and blessings follow. Being the source of helping someone else wash their dirt off is a humbling thing, but it is also a blessing because it bonds your hearts and lives together. When I realize that everybody has dirt, and there is a way to be continuously cleansed it is like….grace. Abundant grace. Whiter than snow. I ask you, who would want to hold on to their dirt instead of feeling that kind of freedom?
Servant hood, that is in actuality leadership. The lowest place is the highest in the upside-down world of Jesus, and that is where I want to live…as a foot-washer.