[Musings from the middle school camping front.]
The story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet has lately made itself at home in my soul where it continues to sink itself down deeply and stir things up unexpectedly. (You can read previous foot-washing thoughts here where I suggest that the story isn’t about actual foot washing at all.)
On the direct ministry front, we are today halfway through our camp assignment. That is, there is at least as much work still to do as has already been done. Perhaps more. I love camp. We all love camp. And middle-schoolers – oh how we do love them. There is no lack of love here for either the setting or the subjects.
Still, there is a hint of weariness. Camp life is exhausting. In every way.
So it would seem logical to rally our collective selves by calling out for more energy! more joy! more enthusiasm! more love!
And while all of those things are good, I think there is one thing only that will carry us from this midpoint to the finish line: humility. Active humility. The kind of humility that Jesus displayed when he washed his disciples’ feet.
That he was the one to do the washing – to stoop, to pour, to rinse, to dry – should change how we live. In every way.
As a human being, he was clearly the only one there who had a right to expect and demand that someone else be the foot washer. He was the leader. The rabbi. The teacher. And there is also this: “The Father had given him authority over everything” (John 13:3).
As God incarnate, he was obviously the only one there who had a right to expect and demand that someone else be the foot washer. He had come from God. He would return to God. He was with God. He was God.
What else does a fully man/fully God guy need to do to get his feet washed?
And let’s not forget that on a previous occasion, he had turned foot-washing water into superb wine. That a water-into-wine man should also be a water-onto-feet God speaks volumes about the one true Lord Almighty.
Jesus’ humility is overwhelming. And it is one of the final lessons he leaves with his disciples: no one is too good to be the foot-washer. When Jesus washed those dusty, dirty, calloused, worn, smelly, stinky feet, he was demonstrating the epitome of humble obedience and obedient humility.
The disciples may not have disobeyed outright when they – not a single one of them – did not offer to wash the others’ feet. But not disobeying is not necessarily the same thing as obeying.
And the disciples may not have displayed excessive pride by pointing to each other and saying, “You do it.” “No, you do it.” “NO, you do it!” But not displaying pride is not necessarily the same thing as being humble. (As proof of that, Luke tells us that the disciples argued among themselves about who would be the greatest among them…after Jesus had already washed their feet.)
Washing someone else’s feet (metaphorically) is not the stuff of headlines. It is not the stuff of blogs or ‘grams or tweets. It’s not even the stuff of the Synoptic Gospels. Only John – many, many years after the fact – recognized the significance of what had taken place and recorded it so that we might learn.
Here, at the midpoint of camp – and really every other day of life – there is only one thing that will position us to live well: the humility of Christ. And not just the humility that willingly washes the feet (metaphorically) of campers (or parishioners or employees or subordinates or whatever) but rather the humility that willingly washes the feet of our fellow workers.
For here is a difficult truth: It is easy to serve campers. It is much harder to serve those who serve alongside us.
If we cannot foot-wash with and among and towards our fellow workers with a genuinely humble heart, we will not be able to foot-wash with and among and towards anyone else. Ever.
And if we do not know our true identity (infinitely loved and undeservedly redeemed child of God), if we have not grasped our clear purpose (to be salt, light, and the sweet fragrance of Christ), and if we do not have an eternal perspective (I will work not just for the here-and-now but for all that lies beyond my final breath on earth), we will never be able to get up from the table, wrap a towel around our waist, pour water into a basin, and begin to wash all the feet that need washing.
This is the Jesus we follow. This is the example he set. This is the task we have. Lord, grant us the grace we so desperately need in order to live as we should.
Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table… (John 13:3, NLT)