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. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean. After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. (John 13:5-15 NRSV)
This story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples is a small portion of the Revised Daily Lectionary for today. Perhaps it is a bit surprising for a July reading. After all, if United Methodists ever wash each other’s feet it is most likely part of Maundy Thursday service as we prepare to commemorate the death and the resurrection of Jesus. I have been a part of churches where this tradition just seemed too intimate for the members. It is indeed a humbling experience to have another wash your feet. Of course, this year because of the pandemic and social distancing, even churches where this is a tradition likely skipped it this year. Jesus caused a stir when he washed the disciples’ feet. Pope Francis caused a stir a few years ago when, instead of washing the feet of other priests in the Basilica as other popes had done, he went to a prison and washed the feet of inmates regardless of whether they were followers of Jesus and without regard to what they had done. He has continued this new tradition throughout his papacy. Before Pope Francis, Mr. Rogers caused a stir when he soaked his feet in the pool with Officer Clemmons, a black man.
I remember the first time I participated in a foot washing. I was at first like Peter. It was at once very humbling and very intimate to have a pastor wash my feet. A few weeks ago, I saw a news clip that feet washings were part of vigils after the death of George Floyd. As the Pope has done, I believe we ought to take this passage BOTH literally and metaphorically. We ought to quite literally allow one another to wash our feet, and to wash the feet of others. Jesus models offering one another the intimacy of love and service. And then tells us to do likewise. Jesus said, “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” This kind of intimacy breaks the boundaries of power structures, racial constructs and invites us into a place where we are all truly siblings in Christ. Jesus has indeed set an example for us. Let us cause a stir, too, as we radically love and serve.
May this devotion provide you with a moment of faithful reflection and care. You are involved in ministries of justice and witness, in ministries of standing up and standing with people working to create better systems and communities, in ministries of learning and searching and researching to become more aware and awakened, more technologically savvy and proficient, more virtually and personally present in your churches and communities and world. Each of us who serve as members of your Wisconsin Cabinet write these devotions in grateful prayer for you – for sustenance and buoyancy, for strength and courage, for safety and just actions, and for faith and love to be full and fulfilled in your daily lives. God’s grace and blessings, God’s challenge and healthy discomfort, God’s Spirit and energy be with you, in the hope Christ offers us all.