Thursday, April 17, 2014

Day 38: Humble Yourself

"Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table,* took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet,* but is entirely clean. And you* are clean, though not all of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are 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 13:3-15

I didn't grow up in the Episcopal  Church.  I was raised Southern Baptist, and when I first started attending Episcopal services a few years ago, I remember thinking that some things Episcopalians do are a little strange, with the washing of the feet during the Maundy Thursday service being right at the top of the list.  I know it's a very meaningful part of the Lenten season, but you have to admit it's a little weird.  I'm just saying is all.

But peculiarity aside, it is easy to see the symbolic importance of this ritual.  Christ is teaching us about servant leadership.  You know - the last shall be first, anyone who wishes to be great must humble himself - all that jazz.  But this account of Jesus's last evening with his disciples is so much more than that.  It is a beautiful example of love in the form of friendship.

The twelve apostles were the people Jesus knew best in the world.  They were his constant companions, his coworkers, his BFFs.  He loved them like family.  And this image of Christ kneeling and wiping his disciples' feet with the towel tied around his waist - can you think of a more tender and intimate picture of friendship?  What kind of relationship would you have to have with someone in order to do such a humble service for them?

Christians are called to love the whole world, no exceptions.  But we don't see Jesus washing the feet of everyone He meets, and that is significant.  I don't think we're expected to offer quite this level of vulnerability to total strangers or to our enemies.  This type of love is special, reserved for our closest friends.  Christ has given us a beautiful example of how to honor the people who mean the most to us.

It isn't always easy to accept this kind of love either.  Look at Peter, who tries to stop Jesus from washing his feet.  I think that's a very natural reaction.  Christ isn't the only vulnerable one in this picture.  It takes a certain courage to accept this level of intimacy from a friend.  I'm a bit of a control freak (aren't we all?) and I have trouble accepting help at times, but mission service has a certain way of forcing you to humble yourself and admit that you don't have all the answers, you can't do everything alone.  I've had lots of opportunities to ask my South African friends and coworkers for help, and I like to think I'm getting better at it.  Practice makes perfect, and every time someone comes through for me I get a little bit braver, a little more willing to trust the people around me.

Just take a second to imagine what your relationships with those closest to you would look like if both parties were willing to offer and accept this level of intimacy.  Love that tender is a gift from God, and I can't think of any higher (or harder) calling than to love like Christ loved.

Keri Geiger is 27 years old and from the Diocese of Virginia.  She is a registered nurse 
in the United States and is working as the coordinator for
 inpatient services at Hawston Hospice in Hawston, South Africa.

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