A Journey Toward Spiritual Surrender
Week 3: Forgot to Pack...
Contributed by Lyn Cosby
Conference Office of Communication
When I was a little girl I loved to visit my grandparents, who lived in a city about an hour’s drive away from us. At my grandparents’ house, I was loved without condition. If I wanted something and it was within their means for me to have it, I would have it. My siblings and I were the apple of their eye (but I was sure I was the favorite). Plenty of other people loved me, but it was these two who showed me the kind of person I wanted to be. Their kind of love was special.
Scripture—John 13:1-17; 31b-35
It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 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. When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
“Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
A few years ago, a Bible study group I was part of learned that our pastor was going to wash our feet as part of a lesson. This thought did not appeal to me. At. All. I had a week to fret about it. A week to decide if I would claim I didn’t feel well, or plan a quick trip, or find any other way to avoid what I was sure would be an uncomfortable event.
The day came, and I had not sufficiently planned a credible way to escape the foot-washing. So, like a child about to be punished, I reluctantly walked into the fellowship hall.
We covered the lesson and then came the dreaded moment. The pastor told us she would be the washer, and all of the rest of us would be the washees. I had thought we would each wash someone else’s feet, but whatever.
She filled a basin with water, took a cloth, and made her way around the circle. There I was, one shoe and sock off, watching her as she knelt to wash the feet of my friends, and then she was taking my foot into her hands. Looking into my eyes with love and humility in hers. And I was taken back in time to a memory buried in my heart.
As Melody smiled at me, I saw my grandmother’s face, her smile, her love and humility. Because when I was a little girl at the place I loved best, after a day of hard play outside, my grandmother washed the dirt of the day off my feet every night before I fell asleep.
Hadn’t I always wanted to be like her? I wasn’t quite like her yet. But I still had—still have—time to work toward it.
In biblical times, washing feet was the work of the lowliest servant. The disciples would have thought it beneath the rabbi they followed. Peter was appalled at the notion, as he expressed in verses 6-8 of John 13. Jesus’ reply changed his mind. Though we can imagine the frustration we would feel having to teach the same lesson over and over, Jesus models not only humility, but patience as he finds yet another way to teach this simple lesson to his beloved friends. Just hours after the scene we read about this week, Jesus will model the ultimate lesson in obedience.
And these lessons aren't singular. We read of them in other places in Scripture. The last shall be first. Do unto others. Whatever you do to the least of these. Is it drilled into our heads yet? No? This is why Bible study is so important. This is why Scripture is new and fresh every time we read the same passages we thought we knew. This is why experience should enter into our study. The foot-washing at church brought the lesson home when tied to the memory of my grandmother.
So, dirty feet were washed by lowly servants. Why were they lowly? Their lives were spent in servitude. They “belonged” to someone with more wealth. Washing feet is not a pleasant task. It’s no longer a societal norm to have the feet of one’s guests washed, but there are plenty of ways people can be looked down on for the work they do. It occurs to me that some of these workers are deemed essential during the pandemic we are experiencing, and yet there are those who would deny that they deserve a living wage. It’s one of the political debates of our time. What would Jesus think?
Humility and obedience: two items to pack on your journey toward spiritual surrender. Both are attributes Christians are called to exhibit but society scoffs at. Especially in this country, where many believe individual freedom is a God-given right. The way I read it, this Scripture passage belies that belief. Following Jesus means acting like Jesus acted, not just telling other people how Jesus acted. Memorizing and telling this story are nothing if we don’t behave as Jesus did.
We see glimmers of it sometimes. The volunteers who stay after the fun’s over to clean up—often the same ones working in the background while the fun’s going on. The youngster who uses her allowance to provide for the needs of others. The kid who walks over his elderly neighbor’s grass with the lawnmower as he cuts his own family’s yard. You can probably think of times you’ve seen loving servanthood. Does it fill you with hope?
I’ve experienced foot washing a couple of times since that first uncomfortable experience. I won’t say I love it. I’m not a devotee by any means. But I do have a new way of looking at it. I can look at it as a way to see my Nannie Doris again, and be reminded that I still want to—and can—be more like her. More importantly, I can be reminded to be more like Jesus.
God, we want to be more like Jesus. Thank you for people and experiences that show us the way. As we remember the saints before us who set examples for how to live, make us aware of the ways we can be examples for those we encounter. Amen
Questions for Reflection
- What is God calling you to do or be that you’re reluctant to obey? Where could you draw strength to react in humility and obedience?
- Where have you seen or experienced love expressed through servanthood? Take a minute to let someone know they are appreciated for this trait.
- What is a way you can serve in humility during Lent 2021?