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Print by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld's (1794-1872)

Print by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld’s (1794-1872)

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 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. . . . “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”  Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”  [John 13:3-5, 8]

Jesus wanted to make a lasting impression. It’s not like he hadn’t talked about service and humility and lifting up others above oneself. But like so many of the parables and stories, he decided to create a picture, not just with words, but with actions. And yet, only John shares this story. Was it so humiliating? Did they fear the story would belie their claims of Jesus as the Messiah? After all, would the Messiah wash the feet of a mere fisherman? But for John, this was a critical illustration that could not be ignored.

And yet, the symbolic sharing of bread and wine at the meal is excluded by John. Clearly, for him, the foot washing was the most significant. And before that, the anointing of Jesus’s feet by Mary is told in detail. This too is bypassed by the other storytellers, except Luke, who doesn’t even identify the woman.

The significance of leadership and the self-abasement of feet is somehow important.

I never realized how much I under-appreciated my feet until I started having pain in the big toe of my left foot. Sometimes, it was so miserable, I couldn’t walk but a few steps. Every shoe had to pass the pain test before I would leave the bedroom. I tried everything from heat to cold to massage and acupuncture. I started wearing sandals everywhere (and not flipflops because the band would cut directly across the pain spot). Pretty soon, the pain started waking me up at night. Finally, I gave in and went to the doctor. The podiatrist was a little stumped because nothing really showed up in my x-rays or cat scan. In the end, he went ahead and did a bunionectomy even though my baby bunion was not the real problem. I think he just wanted to get in there and look around. It took almost three months to recover full use of my foot again . . . and of course, within a few months, the pain was back, not as acute, but still, there.

The podiatrist was not happy to see me again and said there was nothing more he could do. He gave me a referral to a physical therapist. I delayed that appointment for weeks out of embarrassment. I mean, really, a physical therapist for my toe??? And yet, I finally had no choice. Almost a year after my surgery, I gave in and went to the therapist. He was a really nice guy and I even told him my tale of embarrassment. The prescription was primarily deep massage.

The healing came through touch.

We don’t touch each other very much in our culture. Oh, we may hug and air kiss and we might shake hands or pat someone’s back. But a genuine touch, a focused touch, a touch with intent; now that makes a difference.

I have had massages off and on throughout the years, but only once did I have a massage by a believer who prayed over me throughout the experience. It was literally, life changing.

When Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, I don’t think he poured water out of a measuring cup or use handy wipes. He prepared them for the journey ahead. He healed them from the bottom up. He made them part of himself through touch: intimate and necessary.

I have written and will perform a monologue tomorrow evening at our Good Friday service and at one point, she says, “And if they [sinners and the the sick] were lucky, he would touch them: just so, just so.”

Touch me Lord. Wash my feet. Heal me. Prepare me for the days to come. The journey I have yet to walk.

 

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