Back in Jesus’ day, people had dirty feet. Sandals, dirt roads, lots of animals… you do the math.
[I led chapel for our preschool a couple weeks ago and mentioned that Jesus and his disciples probably stepped in poop all the time, forgetting the cardinal rule of talking to 3- and 4-year olds: Do Not Mention Poop or You Will Quickly Lose All Control of the Room. Chaos ensued.]
Today we have clean feet. We wear shoes and socks, stilettos and boots. The days we do wear sandals we carefully manicure our nails and exfoliate our heels so as not to offend anyone.
Yet the dirty feet in Jesus day stood in for souls, too. People’s feet were dirty. Their souls were too.
Today our feet might be clean, but our souls are in no less need of a good wash.
Enter: Maundy Thursday.
At Jesus’ last meal with his disciples, he kneels down. He strips down to the waist, wraps a towel around himself, and begins to wash his disciples’ feet. One after the other.
Judas. Yes, even him.
When he comes to Peter, Peter steps back.
“Surely not, Lord!” he protests. He’s followed Jesus for such a long time he knows the pecking order. Jesus is the teacher, the rabbi, the leader. He, Peter, is the servant.
Yet Jesus persists.
“I must wash you, Peter.”
Finally, Peter kneels.
From John 13, the story in full:
It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
This Maundy Thursday, we are reminded of how very dirty our feet are. Of how we don’t want to even wash our own feet, much less anyone else’s.
And once again, as he always does, Jesus bends down, picks up a basin of water, and begins to make us clean.
Not because we’re good enough or smart enough or because we finally got it right. But because he loves.
“I’ve served you,” he says. “Now go. Do likewise.”
Are your feet dirty this Maundy Thursday? How does God want to help make you clean?