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Washing feet?

John 13 has Jesus washing the disciple’s feet.  At the end of the exercise he says, “I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you” (Jn 13:15).  So, is Jesus saying we should wash each other’s feet?  The pope took it literally, and I have been in groups where people have washed each other’s feet.  I have to say its strange and humiliating.  In the 1st C. Mediterranean culture of Jesus’ day, it wasn’t so strange.  People wore sandals and with no asphalt, very little concrete, and no sanitation, feet became very grubby and smelly.  It was customary for the household slaves to wash guests’ feet at the entrance to a house; Jesus’ action fitted the local customs.  So why is Jesus commanding us to practice a custom that has no 21st C. practical relevance and is culturally weird?  If you know anything about the book of John, you will know it can be interpreted at many different levels.  So here in John 13, the strangeness of Jesus’ universal command “to wash each other’s feet” with reference to our cultural setting, flies a flag for a different level of interpretation?  I think Jesus is saying to us, cover each other in their moment of weakness.  I can hear you asking, “what are talking about Den?”  In Waitara, I had a very good woman in a high-power group in the church standing over me and yelling at me, and then resigning.  I just sat there, took it, and tapped my pen on the table.  Later, members of the group came to me and said, “what are you going to do, she resigned?   I remembered Jesus foot washing incident, and said, “She did it under emotional duress, I am not going to accept her resignation.”  I was in a position of power to rightfully exert the authority given to me, but I didn’t.  I washed her feet.  I covered her weakness, or sin if you want to go that far.  I could have acted in a different way and gained a measure of satisfaction as due justice, or even retribution but I chose not to.  I have to say, to act this way was counter intuitive; my ego was yelling at me, “don’t do this.”.  The lady did eventually resign from that group but not with a cloud hanging over her head.  She went on to flourish in the ministry she was involved in, in the church, and I left the church in a good relationship with her.  In fact, even today we have the highest respect for each other.  I esteem and love her as an outstanding woman of God.  And it could have been so different.  So, when you are in a situation where you could justifiably exert your power, are you going to wash someone’s feet?

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