an unassuming god
I love this image. The light is warm and soft, the materials are rich and textured, and both water and feet look clean and inviting… But as nice as this image is, it depicts a ritualized act–a symbol based on something real–not the real act itself. It’s only the real act that can convey the impact and meaning of Jesus’ example that last night at supper, stripping off his outer clothing and wrapping a towel around his waist, kneeling before each of his friends in succession, ignoring their dropped jaws and exchanged stares.
Washing a person’s feet in 1st century Judea was a dirty, disgusting task reserved only for the lowest of slaves, a humiliating duty carried out by inferiors to superiors. Washing a person’s feet in that culture would be more akin to washing someone who had soiled themselves in our own. Knowing this, Peter’s initial refusal is much more understandable, his outrage more pointed–that his master, messiah, and king should do this to him, for him. But without it, Jesus says, Peter could “have no part with” him.
Does your faith life make you feel like this?
We have a way of insulating ourselves from inconvenient or uncomfortable facts. Leaning back into the safety of ritual acts or symbolic images is like turning down the volume on a song we don’t like, walking quickly past a homeless person, avoiding eye contact. Jesus is real. Stark. Uncompromising. Full blast. He is telling us that our world is upside down. We idolize and strive for all the wrong things. We see value in glittering valuelessness and walk right past incomprehensible, but unglittering riches.
Our God, the creator of heaven and earth, is an unassuming God, a humble God, a God who washes our feet, occupies a station in our lives that we can’t and don’t even respect, let alone emulate. Coming to us from the standing height of a child, the kneeling height of a servant, our God is a God who serves us, holds nothing back–not even his own dignity–to graphically demonstrate the nature of real relationship.
And never thinking to look down, to a height lower than our own heads, our God is a God we will walk right past on our way to the lights, cameras, and action of what we believe and expect true power and value to be. It’s blasphemous, outrageous, and world-bending to see God in this way, but if Jesus and the Father are one, what other conclusion is there? Until we can learn to see through God’s eyes, we will “have no part with him…” that is, we will never experience the infinite extent of the love in which we are immersed, and we’ll never feel safe enough to show another the extent of the love that covers them as well.