I’ve pictured the moment a million times: Jesus standing up to remove his outer garments and wrapping a towel around his waist. What were the disciples doing as he did this? Were they paying attention? What did they think the basin of water was for? Did any of them understand? Most of all, I wonder what Jesus’ eyes looked like.
I am moved afresh each time I read the lines and remember he declared nothing about himself and just knelt down low to embrace the dust. The Creator of the universe, the King of all Kings cleaned the dirt from their calloused skin. He knew these men’s hearts, the mix of motives and desires in each of them, their lack of love and potential to love like him. He loved them. He served them that they may learn to sacrificially love and serve one another.
Did his back ache as he bent down low for those dirty feet the way mine does when I am trying to put a shoe on the non-participatory foot of my two-year old? If it did, I am certain he didn’t grumble or grow impatient like I am tempted to do.
Did his hands feel dry after washing and drying foot after foot like mine do at the kitchen sink with its never-ending dirty dishes? If his hands did ache, I’m sure he didn’t worry about where to find the best hand cream. I know he didn’t roll his eyes when he came upon a foot that was dirtier than all of the others like I do when I find a dish dry-caked with food that someone forgot to rinse before they dropped it into the sink.
There are still places within me where my willingness to sacrifice is embarrassingly weak. Because I have to, yes. But willingly? Sometimes I am still more resistant than my toddler’s suddenly-by-choice, limp foot.
When I was 22, I was sure God was calling me to move overseas for full-time ministry. And so I did. I was sure I would spend the rest of my life in full-time ministry, living cross-culturally. Because, as I had declared to so many, “This is who I am and it’s what I was made for. This is what makes me come alive!” I also said, “Everything in my story points to this.” Until, of course, it no longer did. And God had other plans. And all I believed about myself in my 20’s no longer made sense as I peered on into my 30’s.
It was in this place of misunderstanding and resistance, this new decade where my passionate heart suddenly went limp, when Jesus asked daily for my feet. He wanted to wash them. Again and again. He still washes them with patience deeper than any ocean.
Too many times to count, I have written in my journals: “Less of me and more of you, Jesus!” And then he asks me to do the dishes. Dish Washer, Laundry Lady, Lunch Packer and Scrubber-of-Every-Missed-Aim in the bathroom. Is this all I am called to be right now? Peter’s initial misunderstanding and words of resistance to Jesus washing his feet echo in my mind. What measure of equality am I still grasping for? What else do I think I need to make myself to be?
Jesus’ willing sacrifice of all I naturally want to clutch and hold dear leaves me vanquished in my struggles of discontent with the everyday inglorious and mundane. How did he not consider equality with God something to be grasped? How did he make himself nothing?
So, over dirty dishes, while forever dreaming of new places to explore on the globe, or bent down low to scrub the bathroom floor of the little warriors I love, I must remember I come from bone and dust. I also must never forget I am beloved. I am an heir of the Risen Servant King whose calling is bigger than a season of life, bigger than a life-long dream and the birth of new ones, bigger than my measure of feeling alive and small enough to care for the lowest and tiniest of dirty feet.
His way is my calling. His willingness is my joy. His sacrifice is my freedom.