"Shoe-Shiners and Foot-Washers" - John 13
John 13:1-17, 31-35
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants* are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
When [Judas] had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
As much as I’ve bemoaned the timing of Spring Break this year, because of the way it leaves us guessing about who/how to plan for all of our events and activities this Holy Week and Easter, the fact that it inspired us to change our focus for tonight is kind of cool. In case you haven’t heard, instead of celebrating First Communion with some of our youngest Cross of Gracers, like we’ve done for years as part of this worship service, tonight we’ll be focusing on the other part of what Jesus was up that night long ago, when he celebrated his last Passover before his crucifixion.
I’m talking, of course, about how he washed the feet of his disciples. And tonight, rather than simply taking off our shoes and walking around barefoot, which is usually the extent to which we pay homage to Jesus’ grand act of humility and service, we’re going to do the deed. Pastor Aaron and I are going to get our hands dirty, as it were. And you’re going to get your feet cleaned, if you choose.
And a lot has been said over the years – for generations – about what Jesus was up to in this; why he did what he did; what he meant to convey; what his disciples were – what you and I are – supposed to learn from it all.
The obvious point was his message of service and humility. That Jesus, the Son of God, came to serve, not to be served. That we, as children of God, like the Son of God, are called to serve, not to be served. That God’s kind of service looks like humility. That God’s kind of power looks like weakness. That God’s kind of service and humility and power look like death on the cross, even – for which this foot-washing stunt was just a prelude.
And I don’t mean to minimize all of that. It is foundational to who/how we are called to be as disciples of Jesus, as Christians in the world, as Partners in Mission, even, at Cross of Grace. Generous. Gracious. Humble. Servants. But I feel like we’ve heard that story before.
And I even read a blog this week about how we shouldn’t bother with the washing of feet in worship, like so many churches do, like the Pope, even, does as part of his Holy Week journey, because it cheapens the power of what Jesus was really up to that night around the table with his disciples. The assumption is that, in this day and age, we can’t accurately replicate the depth or fullness of the foot-washing Jesus offered up way back when. And there’s truth to that.
First of all, none of us is Jesus. None of us is the Son of God. None of us is rabbi, or teacher or Christ or Messiah in any of the ways that make his humble, stooping, service as surprising or compelling or instructive as it was for those who first experienced it. Secondly, none of us has feet like the ones Jesus likely washed that night. Remember, those disciples weren’t wearing wing-tips or Nike high tops or tube socks with their sandals, even. And they weren’t walking on sidewalks or paved streets, or Berber carpet, either. They were walking on and through and stepping over dust and dirt, and mud and muck, and whatever the local livestock and beasts of burden left behind, if you know what I mean. These were some feet that needed washing.
As Pastor Aaron said, last year, I think, it might be more instructive, more accurate, more relevant, comparatively, were we to wash your underwear, than to pretend it’s all that humbling to bend down and poor some water over your feet this evening.
So in thinking about all of that – and in talking about tonight’s plan with many of you the last week or so – it seems like a shift has happened in the hearts and minds of Christian people when it comes to the emotions this foot-washing stuff inspires. What I mean is, we’ve stopped focusing on Jesus and what it meant for him to humble himself as he did, and we worry more about what it means to take our shoes off in front of our pastors in the church sanctuary. To a person it seems, the anxiety or distaste about what we’ll do here has been about our feet; our modesty; our uncomfortability; our “whatever” that makes this so strange and difficult.
And maybe that’s as much Jesus’ point as anything else.
I think a lot of this is about letting ourselves…letting our soles…letting our SOULS…be seen; laid bare; touched by grace; washed with water; wiped clean; and so on.
And I think Jesus knew that before we can get about the business of getting our hands dirty for the sake of others who need it, we’re called to recognize that we need the same sort of cleansing, ourselves. Maybe this foot-washing – for the first disciples, then, and for us, still today – is as much about who’s feet are being washed as it is about who’s doing the washing.
It’s about acknowledging what stinks about us; it’s about revealing what we’d rather not; showing what we try to hide; receiving care for what we’d rather ignore or deny, maybe. It’s about accepting grace…ministry…generosity…self-lessness…forgiveness…sacrifice…and everything else that God pours out through Jesus on the cross in the days to come, for the sake of our Sin.
To put it plainly, if the disciples couldn’t let Jesus wash their feet, how in the world were they going to let him die for their sake?
It reminds me of a shoe-shiner I sat near once in the airport. His name was Moses, which is why he got my attention in the first place. That, and it was 6 o’clock in the morning and here was this elderly African-American guy at the airport drumming up business with a wide smile and a hearty laugh and an evident joy in work that would be beneath a whole lot of people – his clients, in particular, I imagine.
Anyway, one of those clients climbed up into Moses’ chair, presented the shoe-shiner with some filthy looking wing-tips, and asked, “Do you think you can do anything with these?”
“Do you think you can do anything with these?” A question with some humility, some confession, a little bit of doubt, and some measure of hope mixed in: “Do you think you can do anything with these?”
I think that’s the same kind of question with which we are called to present our feet – our soles – our SOULS – to the Messiah who would wash them clean for our sake. And we are to present ourselves tonight and in the hours ahead as we follow him to the cross, with no small amount of humility, confession, misgiving, and hope, too, that yes, much to our surprise, God, in Jesus, will do something – something holy, mighty, gracious, loving and full of forgiveness – with whatever … whatever … we put before him at the foot of God’s cross
Because God’s hope – and Jesus’ point that night so long ago – wasn’t just about cleaning feet. It was about moving his disciples to acts of love in return for the love they would receive; to return blessing for blessing; forgiveness for forgiveness; mercy for mercy; grace upon grace until all the world would come to know that Jesus Christ, this washer of feet, this suffering servant, this lamb of God, is still the King of kings; still the Lord of lords, and always hope for the sake of the world.