Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Feet and dust and me

A long time ago -- even before I was born, and I'm old -- people walked around in open-toed sandals. That was a tad inconvenient, as most streets weren't paved and people often walked where streets didn't exist anyway. So pretty soon their feet got dirty.

Now, there probably wasn't much of a pedicure industry back then; it wouldn't do a lot of good to get your toes all gussied up, then have them get dusty thirty seconds out the front door. But there was a foot-cleaning industry, and it was run by the lowest-class slaves -- the newbies, just off the boat, or the ones that were in trouble and had to work their way back into the master's favor. When you came home from work, or went to somebody's house for pizza, that slave was there to clean up your feet and refresh you.

Since animals were in the streets, manure built up too. And since sandals didn't keep it all out, manure ended up on peoples' feet too. That would make the foot-washing job even less pleasant. Likewise, the feet themselves, in contact with the common dirt of the road, were considered a less honorable part of the body. So what we're talking about here is definitely the job nobody wanted.

Lo and behold, that's what Jesus took on during his last night on earth as a regular human. He'd been preaching humility and servanthood to his disciples, and he was certain they hadn't seen the picture, so he showed them one -- himself, washing their dirty feet. He was ready to be sacrificed on a cruel cross to wash their sins away from their souls, but he started with washing the dirt away from their feet. Every time I look at that picture, I get convicted again by his humility and my lack of it.

Some of us as Christians practice this ritual every year. It's a reminder of our Savior's deep, deep love. More than just a reminder, it's also a pledge to walk in his sandals, to serve others like he did, even if it looks dumb or humiliating or messy. Now, pride can even make us go through the motions to 'do service.' But his love in us -- if we really are listening to him -- brings it out from the heart, with a purity of motive. It's worth considering carefully, praying over and asking Jesus to let his mind be in you, as you look at someone else's toes.

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