The foot washing scriptures make me uncomfortable. I have a phobia of feet and I have for a good portion of my life. Some people’s feet have athlete’s foot, growths, fungus, and weird smells. I am not a foot person. When I was a little girl my step grandmother used to come to visit us every Thanksgiving. She would come and stay with us for a month. She was known for her foot rubs. She loved to serve her loved ones in this manner. She would spend a good hour per person rubbing their feet and their calf muscles.
I would never let her rub my feet. How could I make my grandmother get on the floor to rub my feet? How could I make her touch my flat feet with sore toes? Feet that always had blisters from either wearing shoes that didn’t fit right, or from the many years of running I had done. But every day she would patiently ask. She would promise me that this was her gift to us. She wanted to do this. There was nothing wrong with my feet that she hadn’t seen before, nothing that she was scared of. My feet were not going to scar her for life. But still every year my answer was “No”.
Well the last time she came to visit was in 2009, the year Bill and I got married. Again she sat down on the floor and asked me would I like a foot rub. I was so hesitant and scared. But I really did want a foot rub. So I said yes and now I regret not allowing her to do it before. She was so happy because I finally let her serve me. It was a very difficult thing for me to do. As I read today’s scriptures in one of my devotionals, I realized how I identified with Peter. It is uncomfortable allowing for someone you respect and care about to serve you, and how much more difficult it is to serve someone else in that manner. For that type of selfless service, I admire my step grandmother. She allowed for her love of others to overcome any fears, any emotions of discomfort. Isn’t this what Jesus asks of all of us?
Fears get in the way. Fears hold us back. Fears help us to maintain the barriers and walls we construct to protect ourselves from vulnerable situations. I’ll tell you what, the moment I took the chance to let my grandmother serve me was the moment that our relationship got even closer than it was before, which I never thought could happen. And in those moments, she taught me a good lesson. It was alright to be vulnerable. It was alright to let others do for me, just as it was alright for me to humble myself to do for others. I have always been way more comfortable serving rather than being served. But to truly connect with others when we serve, we need to let them give back to us as well. It is a form of mutual service, mutual caring.
When a shepherd cares for their herd, nothing, no fear, no bandits, no wild animals of the night, gets in the way of their care for their flock. God’s care for us is the same. He fearlessly and unapologetically cares for and serves his people, you and me. We learn in the New Testament, that such care, such faith should be lived in our actions with one another. We see Jesus as our example. Jesus took on the traditional role of a slave in washing the feet of his disciples. He did not cringe, think twice, or get grossed out. He lovingly washed their feet, his last earthly act of care for those who were closest to him. He took on the act not because he was forced to, as in the case of a slave, but he voluntarily humbled himself to an act that put him on par with the lowest of society. He did so with grace and love.
What joy he must have felt in those moments to be able to give this last gift to those who were to pick up his message to the people after his death. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life, that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself”. In helping those he loved, Christ reinforced the extreme level of care and self denial that his life, death, and resurrection came to mean for the Christian world. In those last moments with his disciples, yes he was anointing them for the paths they were to shortly follow, but he was also get solace through his service to them, connecting with those he loved one last time.
Christ was daring. He was daring in his ministry. He didn’t get squeamish, or uncomfortable. He wasn’t afraid of humility or of asking too much of others. He wasn’t afraid to do the things that made his friends uncomfortable, and he wasn’t afraid to require them to join him in those acts. I admire those who can do this with ease. I constantly battle with my fears, squeamishness, and all that hinders me from experiencing the love and care of others more fully. I would be willing to bet that I am not the only one, even Peter struggled with this. We all do.
If I learned anything from my step grandmother it would be the benefits of humility. It would be pushing through my discomfort to experience a ministry of care that goes much deeper than just the physical act of the foot rub, or in Jesus’ case the washing of the feet. Remember what Christ said to the disciples, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet”. There is humility in the act of receiving but also in the willingness to serve. We are called to serve not only when it is easy and comfortable for ourselves.
We are called to be daring in our care for others, daring in our service for our neighbors. We need to go out and wash feet, caring for the needs of others. We need to be as vigilant with the care of one another as a shepherd cares for their flock. We need to be willing to face the dangers around us so that someone else might feel loved, valued, cared for, and know that God cares. As we continue to journey through this Lenten season, let us take the time to examine what in our lives prevents us from living into the service of one another. And then to take the courage to work through it and give back. For this is the call of Christ in all of our lives.
 Ralph Waldo Emerson, mid-19th century.
 John 13: 14, RSV.
(Based on Psalm 23 and John 13: 1-17)