Who do you most admire?
It might be someone from your childhood: a teacher; a coach; a youth director; a grandparent; a parent. It could be someone you look up to now: a supervisor; a community leader; a professor; an author; a pastor.
Of all these kinds of people, who is the one person you admire the most? The one you place on the highest pedestal? The one you watch to see how she handles things, the one you think of when you wonder what to do, the one you would be honored – star struck, even – to share a meal with? Who do you most admire?
Now, I want you to imagine that person is knocking at your door.
You open the door and you’re as giddy as a school girl with a crush. He’s here! She’s here! If you’re like me, you’ll lead him inside while discretely straightening shoes kicked off by the door and picking up toys left out of place. You might lead her to your favorite, most comfortable sitting chair, the one you usually sit in yourself. You weren’t prepared for guests, but you offer her everything you have in the way of a beverage – even that Cheerwine in the glass bottle that you were saving for a special occasion.
You sit and talk for a while and it’s wonderful. He listens intently to your stories. She wisely answers your questions. You feel honored. You are literally graced by his presence.
Then she asks where your restroom is. Even our most admired people have to use the restroom after enjoying an ice-cold soda. As you point him in the right direction, your mind is wondering: What is my bathroom like? Did my son flush the toilet after he used it? Is the hand towel clean, or is it old and crunchy? What will she think of me when she sees my bathroom?
When your guest returns he has that same gentle smile on his face. That peaceful happiness seems to confirm that the bathroom was, thank God, up to standard. Just to be sure you excuse yourself for the same purpose. And when you get there, you’re shocked.
It’s clean. In fact, it has obviously been just cleaned. The toilet bowl water is a telltale blue. The faint odor of bleach is in the air. There is not a single splatter mark on the mirror.
She has cleaned your bathroom.
You walk back out, unsure how to proceed. It feels like you ought to say, “Thank you,” but what you really want to ask is, “Why? Why did you just clean my bathroom?”
When your guest sees your face, he can easily read your expression. So he answers your unasked question:
“You’re rightly confused. You look up to me, and I just cleaned your bathroom. I did this for a reason – and listen, this is important. If I – your mentor, your role model, the person you look up to – have cleaned your bathroom, shouldn’t you do the same for others?”
When Matthew, Mark, and Luke recall Jesus’ last supper with the disciples, they include the story of the first communion. When John remembers that dinner, he remembers something else. Like communion, it was a physical act. Like communion, it was something Jesus asked his disciples to continue to do. But this act didn’t involve bread and juice; it was about a basin and a towel.
When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, he was taking on the act of a servant. In first century Palestine walking was the primary mode of transportation, and before meals those feet that had got them there would need to be washed. Not only would they be dirty from walking, but the tables were low – putting feet close to food. Often, that washing was the job a servant. In the absence of a servant, the least among a group would assume the responsibility.
Jesus washing the disciples’ feet was Jesus along the lines of a special guest gladly cleaning your dirty bathroom.
Imagine their shock when he knelt before them and took their dusty feet in his hands. Peter expresses that shock well: “Not me, Lord!”
But perhaps the most shocking part of the footwashing wasn’t the act itself, but Jesus’ command afterward:
“Go and do likewise.”
Reinhard Feldmeier makes an interesting suggestion: Perhaps Peter’s objection isn’t so much that he doesn’t want his own feet washed, but because he sees where Jesus is going with this. Jesus is the one they follow, the rabbi that they model their lives after. So if Jesus is going to wash their feet, then it means that…
Yeah. That they’re going to have to wash other people’s feet. To serve others.
That is a hard calling. It’s also an indisputable requirement for following Jesus. Matthew, Mark, and Luke might not tell us about the footwashing, but they do tell us that Jesus taught about serving: “…whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt 20:26-28; see also Mark 10:43-45 and Luke 22:26-27).
Imagine that the person you admire most came to your house and cleaned your bathroom. And then, that person asked you to go and serve others in just the same way.
That’s what happened to the disciples when Jesus washed their feet. And, when we decide to follow Jesus, that’s what happens to us, too. We receive their call to “go and do likewise.”
So be on the lookout for feet that need washing. They might look like a friend who needs calling or a family that needs feeding. They may in be the nudge to share something you’d rather keep for yourself or to do that least-desirable job. They could be in time spent differently with people who are different than you.
They might even be found in a bathroom that needs cleaning.
Wherever there are opportunities to serve, may you follow Jesus’ command:
“Go and do likewise.”