Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Servanthood and Sweaty Feet
I come in from the shops and pour myself a big red plastic mug (which should have been put away with the camping stuff) full of water. My mouth, throat and insides feel better now but my feet are complaining. The soft, powdery dust of Africa works itself through my sandals like a fine talc but the result is not similar to a freshly powdered baby after his bath. No, the combination of heat, sweat, suede sandals and talcum-esque dust leaves my feet hot and slippery inside my shoes. Nope, I can't go on till I've balanced on one leg at a time and washed my feet in the sink in my bathroom.
This has me thinking about Jesus washing his disciples' feet.
I'm not planning to study this passage or dissect it or be at all academic and clever about it. I'm just musing. I'm not Mr. Barclay or Mr. Wright. I am Lisa: child-rearer, tea-maker, she who dances to The Monkees.
Jesus removed his outer garment and washed his friends feet more, we believe, to engage in an act of servanthood toward them, than simply to clean the sweat and dust from their feet. Mind you, their feet may well have needed the bath and maybe he was tired of the smell, which possibly gave him the idea. Who knows? But he bent low, took on the job of a servant, and dealt with their yuck.
Today we sometimes engage in foot washing in our communities of believers. We do it as a symbolic thing, a sign of serving each other. And it's a cool thing. Very cool.
But I was just wondering about this symbol out of its context. Jesus did it IN the context that it was a normal, every day service that servants performed. If you arrived at your friends house, their servant came and washed your feet because it was dusty and hot and you walked through the heat and dust to get there. It was an act of hospitality to make you more comfortable, in the same way that we say, "Can I get you something to drink?"
Only offering a person a drink doesn't require me to do anything potentially gross as an act of service for my visitor, does it? And washing someone's feet, (for the most part) is not the same in the neatly paved West as it was all those years ago.
So as I stood there washing my feet under the cool water, I wondered what would be a closer sign of servanthood that we could offer each other.
It's not our culture to all have servants so we do the lowly jobs ourselves, or have city workers who do them. My culturally adapted versions of foot washing include these:
Sorting the trash for recycling
Taking the trash out and washing the rubbish bins afterwards
I wonder about Jesus showing up and setting about to clean our toilets or take out our trash. I picture him washing down the sides of the bins afterwards and then grinning at me as he puts them back in their places (recycle, compost, throw) in the kitchen.
It feels base and almost wrong to picture him that way.
Must have felt the same to his disciples.