Over the years I’ve come to realize I am not a good care receiver. I like to be a care giver. It’s hard to let someone do things for me. Many of us have been teachers, secretaries, managers, nurses, parents-lots of ways we’re used to caring for and serving others. We feel good when we care for others. We feel useful. But letting someone else care for US? Not so much. Good caregivers are often lousy care receivers. Sound familiar?
So I wonder- as we
struggle to let others do loving things for us, how much are we willing to let
Jesus love us? Jesus says love others as I have loved you. But how easy is it
to let Jesus get close and love us- the real “us”?
I think the answer to this
question affects how we will then love-which has me rethinking this whole
foot-washing thing. In some churches tonite is the night for re-enacting not
only the Last Supper, but the washing of feet. I was asked again last night-
are you going to do foot washing? After all, in the Gospel of John we hear
nothing about the meal we call communion, no words of “do this in remembrance
of me.” We hear about washing feet. There’s been lots of division in the church
over communion, but perhaps not surprisingly no such heated debates about
washing feet. As I was asked about washing
feet with cringing faces, there was relief when I said “no.”
We get a little
up in arms about the whole foot washing thing. Peter is indignant too, though we
hear he is indignant about having his feet washed mainly because he thinks it’s
beneath Jesus, this act of bowing down, and doing the work of the lowliest
slave. This breach of social standards is shocking. It’s embarrassing to have
Jesus on his knees, washing off the grime, and the dust of animals, taking off
and laying down robes that will only again be removed when he lays down his
life and is crucified.
Jesus washing feet. It was a part of a social custom, but
while it’s not a common practice today, I think our feelings about foot-washing
still tell us something about Jesus and ourselves. I confess I’ve never been a
fan of the practice, but in one congregation I served, I realized there was no
way out. I spent hours getting my feet ready for the big reveal-making sure my feet looked OK-which of course ironically
reveals something about me.
From talking to some of you, I know I’m not alone. Unless
its summer and we’re the flip-flop wearing kind, our feet are usually hidden. Perhaps
they’re not our most attractive feature. Yet, one writer suggests that our feet
are perhaps an indicator of our real selves. Long after we start out with cute,
pink baby toes, our feet develop crooked toes, corns, calluses, discolored
toenails, cracked skin, bunions. Centuries later, and in spite of all our technologicla advances, our feet aren’t much better
than those feet in the sandals of the followers of Jesus. While they may be
cleaner, to invite people to look at our feet is to invite them to accept us as
we are, because we can do little to change their appearance.
This is an
intimacy that perhaps we’re not likely to want to be a part of. Just like those
layers of dirt of the disciples’ feet, we will keep our layers, thank you very
much. It’s a little too much humility. Jesus’ humility is hard to look upon,
the humiliation that will be seen most fully in his death. We don’t like this,
or thinking of our own humility. Even when we care for others, we like a
distance. Yet, Jesus shows a loving intimacy that we are ill at ease with. He
removes the distance between him and his followers, and brings them face to
face with pure love. For Peter and for us there’s something else at stake
besides Jesus’ dignity. It is our ability to receive this love that comes as a
gift we didn’t earn or deserve, that doesn't allow us to keep our status. Jesus
loves us as we are up close, without the layers and pretense, and shows us how we “instinctively seek to
protect our position and perception of power and control.”
We don’t respond to
God’s commands or to God’s saving initiative easily, but we are even more ill
at ease with this searing honest love. Yet, it is only in God’s steadfast
faithfulness, seeking and shaping, washing off the layers that we can begin to
approach self-giving love- either to receive it or to model it in the world. Tonite
we hear again, that we are to love and be loved in this way.
We prefer to let
God love us in ways that let us save face, but when we do this, we miss the
possibility of God revealed in our midst in ways that break open deeper love in
Who is God using to show us this
Can we learn to simply receive it and the hospitality of others?
Will be willing to risk
deeper, more intimate relationships, and proclaim a death to our barriers? The
story of footwashing invites us to Christ in these things. Things that break open
barriers to real relationships, and encourage us to be willing to lay down our
lives for this new way of being.
To believe that Christ’s love for us is even
deeper than our willingness to admit our need. And that the love God the Father
has for the Son is the love the Son has for us-No reservations. This kind of
relationship is possible for us here. Mutual love, without any special
treatment. Honest love for who we are.
Foot-washing shows us both the depth of
Jesus’ love and the model for us as disciples. While we can’t love as deeply as
Christ, we’re invited to step deeper into this reality nd to believe God really
does intend such love for us.
When we begin to believe this is true for us, we’ll be
more able to receive God’s love through all kinds of people who bear Christ
into our midst.
And then...we’ll be unable to keep from showing the light of this love
to others, even when it means sacrificing our comfort level.
A real, intimate
love willing to go to places our social standards would say we should avoid
that models the real, intimate love that went the places God didn’t have to go.
Self-giving love seen fullest in the cross.
Tonite we’re asked to remember and here is God's message-
I love you. Love and be loved as I have loved you.
Love like THIS and
the whole world will know who I am .