Sadao Watanabe, "Jesus washes Peter's feet", 1973Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you." For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean." After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord — and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, 'Where I am going, you cannot come.' I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
If you know me in real life, you know that I am among the first people to break out the flip-flops in the spring, and among the last people to retire them in the fall/winter. And if you know me in real life, you also know that I'm pretty low-maintenance about my feet. At some point in the season, I usually break down and paint my toenails once, and maybe touch up my polish once or twice, when it's really bad and chipped, but I'm not one of those people who changes colors on a whim throughout the summer or who matches their polish to their outfit. I don't own any special foot lotions or scrubs or spa socks or soothing soaks or foot whirlpool tubs. It's just not my thing.
I have had exactly one pedicure in my life. A friend invited me along, and I looked forward to the time together, even if I wasn't sure about the whole foot-touching thing. Let me tell you, getting ready for your first pedicure makes you irrationally self-conscious about your feet. You start thinking, "Now that I look at them...my feet are kind of rough. My toes are weird and my toenails are funny-shaped. Hey, I never noticed that bump there. And...hey!...doesn't it look like one of them is bigger than the other?" I think that I went into the pedicure just sure that the person working on my feet would judge them. I might have even cleaned and scrubbed and lotioned my feet, and trimmed up my toenails that morning before I went, just to make a good impression...
Of course, no one cared about the state of my feet, and of course, no one judged me for what my feet were or weren't. And it turns out that I loved the pedicure. The warm footbath relaxed me from the toes up, and the soaks and scrubs left my feet as smooth and soft as they've ever been. I picked a polish color that I loved, and left the pedicure feeling clean, happy, and energized.
I know that in Jesus' time, foot-washing was a common practice; after walking dusty roads in sandals all day, you would wash your feet, which were dirty, no matter how clean the rest of your body was. And so I know that the meaning of Jesus washing his disciples' feet was more about him taking the role of a servant, and less about him dealing with feet.
But I think there's something to be said about Jesus dealing with our feet. Our feet are what take us places. Our feet get rough and dirty and tired. And, for most of us, we feel squirmy and uncomfortable with other people touching our feet. We feel self-conscious about them. So what does it say to us that Jesus serves us from the feet up? What does it tell us that Jesus comes to us at our most insecure, most uncomfortable point? And at that point, he does not judge or condemn. He does not laugh or poke fun. He does not scrunch up his face when our feet are dirty or smelly or rough. He simply serves. Jesus comes to serve us at the points where we most feel unworthy to receive him. And he takes the insecure and uncomfortable parts of us and cleans them, cleanses them, makes them signs of reconciliation.
And his command to his disciples, and to us, is to love one another as he has loved us. What would our lives look like if we cared for other people at their most ticklish, most smelly, most insecure points? Because loving our neighbor according to the model of Christ means that we don't just love the clean, shiny, squeaky-clean parts of people. It means that we aren't afraid to show love even to the dusty parts. It means that we care for others when they are difficult or mean or broken or badly behaved; it means that we care for others, despite their sinfulness, because Jesus cared for - died for - us, not just despite our sinfulness, but for the sake of it.