I agree with the brilliant theologian and philosopher Forrest Gump when he said, “You can learn a lot from other people’s shoes. Where they been, what they do…” and then remember, he points to the shoes of the woman sitting next to him on the bench and says, “Those look like comfortable shoes. I wish I had a pair of shoes like them. I bet you could walk all day in shoes like that.” To which the woman replies, “my feet hurt” (opening monologue from Forrest Gump”.
Feet do hurt don’t they. Especially when you have been walking or standing all day. Experts tell us that there are 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 tendons, muscles, and ligaments in the human foot. No wonder foot pain can create pain in the legs, hips, and back. What’s more, there are more than 250,000 sweat glands on the foot. And I believe it. Especially during summer marching band practice and wrestling season.
Today we have shoes for everything and every occasion imaginable. Sunday shoes, business casual shoes, dress shoes, prom shoes, dance shoes, wrestling shoes, basketball shoes, band shoes, concert choir shoes, rain boots, snow boots, horse riding boots...You name it and there is probably a shoe that fits.
If you were to look in Jesus’ closet however, you wouldn’t find much but a pair of simple leather sandals. In Jesus’ day shoes were a matter of functionality and practicality. A simple sole and a plain leather strap. The roads were dusty, rocky, and in the dry season, there could be 2-3 inches of sand and dirt on the roads. In the rainy season those 2-3 inches of dry dirt swelled into wet sticky mud.
For this reason, it was common for households to have large pitchers of water and a basin at the door of their homes explicitly for visitors, guests, family, and friends to have their feet washed. Notice I didn’t say for them to wash their own feet. It wasn’t like at my mom’s house where you get to the door and she hollers, wipe your feet and come on in. In Jesus’ day, it was the task of the lowest ranking house servant to wash the feet of those who entered. It was one of the most demeaning and filthy tasks in their culture.
It doesn’t get much more clear than Jesus doing the most basic, intimate, humbling act of washing feet to show the importance of what it means to serve. It’s not like we did as kids in the summer rinsing our feet with the garden hose. This is an act of humility. To kneel, take the foot of another person, pour water over them, and proceed to wash between the toes, around the heel, and making sure its all rinsed off and patted dry. It’s an intimate act of service.
This passage is about two things: 1. Jesus taking on the lowliest acts and becoming a servant king. 2. It is about you and me coming to learn what it means to serve by the example of Jesus.
I am not talking only about donations, great hospitality teams, or volunteering once a week. That is certainly a part of it. Yet, this whole passage gives insight and instruction on how to be church and it has very little, if anything to do with denominational polity, governing bodies, or institutional religion. It has everything to do with Jesus, the Son of God, King of Kings and Lord of lords, being the king we least expected - a servant king and calling us to take on the same kind of attitude.
His followers didn’t always have the best attitude. Just a few passages before this, the disciples were arguing who among them was the greatest. They wanted to know who ranked where - what was the order of importance - and who fit what role. Knowing this, and knowing his time was limited, Jesus wanted to make sure he did everything he could to help them understand what was truly at stake and what was truly important - to love and to serve one another and to love and serve others.
I came across a story / a legend of St. Francis of Assisi. In his early days he was very wealthy; nothing but the best was good enough for him. He was an aristocrat of the aristocrats. But he was ill at ease and there was no peace in his soul. One day he was riding alone outside the city when he saw a leper, a mass of sores, a horrible sight. Ordinarily Francis would have recoiled in horror from this wreck of humanity. But something moved within him and he dismounted from his horse and flung his arms around the leper. As he embraced him the leper turned into the figure of Jesus. The nearer we are to suffering humanity, the nearer we are to God (Barclay 138). The more we understand what it means to serve, the more we are Jesus to each other, the more we are Jesus to each other, the more we show the world what love truly is.
May it be so believers, may it be so.
Pastor Jenothy Irvine