Foot Washing Weirdness

Jesus washes feet

The preparations have been made. The Passover Feast has begun. Jesus knew this would be his last Passover with the disciples, and this meal certainly wasn’t the only thing on his mind. The cross loomed tall and imposing in his near future, and he knew his time was short.

The disciples on the other hand were clueless as usual. Maybe they were semi-conscious of the strange things Jesus kept saying and how he’d been acting, but the one thing you could count on with the disciples was how oblivious they were. Typical males, right?

The disciples were looking forward to celebrating another Passover with Jesus. It was always a memorable time of eating and laughing, relaxing around the table, and reflecting on the goodness of God.

So here they are again, gathered together, gathered round the table, ready to begin the ceremonial meal. We are familiar with how the story begins. Jesus gets up from the table, wraps a towel around his waist, pours water into a basin, and proceeds to wash the disciples’ feet.

Now this would have caught the disciples off guard; this was out of the ordinary. It seems out of the ordinary for us, too, but for different reasons. We are not accustomed to this custom; we are used to washing our own feet, not having someone else do that.

In Bible times, when you were a guest in someone’s home, they took it upon themselves to wash your feet. The purpose was to be hospitable, to be a good host, and to honor your guests and make them feel welcome, comfortable, and at home during their stay in your house. And after a long day of walking dirt roads in sandals, having clean feet makes everything better.

This practice of being a good host to guests is one we still practice today, even if it looks different. We welcome our guests when they arrive, we take their coats, we invite them to sit down, we offer them food and drink. Things really haven’t changed that much.

While our Bible-times-host wanted to make sure his guests had clean feet and were comfortable, the actual washing of their feet was not something the host ever did. It was beneath the host; it was not proper for a free man to stoop so low.

So the job of washing feet was given to the servant or the slave, and always the lowest one on the totem pole. If a family did not have the means to have their own servants, the job fell to the lady of the household or the children. Never the man of the house.

This is why the disciples were shocked. This is why Peter resisted. The one they held as their King was stooping down to do the job of a worthless slave? Not on Peter’s watch.

But let’s look at this event from the perspective of Jesus.

More than likely, this is the first meal Jesus has hosted for his disciples. Jesus still lived at home with his mom. He didn’t have a place of his own, so he would not have had occasion to be a host.

But Jesus is hosting this meal. He ordered the preparations. He rented the space.

And as host, the responsibilities of taking care of the guests fall to him. Finding someone to wash everyone’s feet is his job.

But he doesn’t find someone. Whether this slipped his mind or was part of his plan all along, there is no servant in the room to wash feet.

I wonder if the disciples picked up on this. I wonder if they kept looking around the room nervously, trying hard not to make eye contact with Jesus, afraid he would ask them to get up and do this humiliating job?

I imagine it might have been similar to when you go out to eat with friends, and the food arrives, and everyone just stares awkwardly at their plate until someone finally offers to pray for the meal. I imagine it might have been like that.

So then Jesus gets up and does what comes naturally for him. He doesn’t think twice about it. He does not see it as something beneath him.

Of course he doesn’t. He himself once said, “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.”

It is perfectly natural for Jesus to wash their feet. It is his very nature, his character, to humbly serve others no matter if it costs him his time, his reputation, or his life.

And he does not limit his service only to those who would call him friend. He lowers himself even before Judas, and serves and loves and hopes for the best while being aware of the worst.

Afterwards, he says to his followers, “I have given you the ultimate example of how you are to be. Serve each other just as I have served you.”

While we may or may not literally follow Jesus’ example of washing feet, we are not to just be copycats of Jesus. We are called to be like Jesus. Just as his natural response and reaction was to serve his neighbor, so we should be seeking to become more like him so that our natural responses and reactions look like his.

Two Babies and A Big Girl

One week ago we sat down as a family and watched old home movies. We had documented and edited the kids’ first steps and first words, birthdays and holidays, and times of dancing, singing, and playing. The kids could hardly believe the little people on the video were themselves, and Kelly and I would make comments about what they were like at each age.

Our kids ate it up. They absolutely loved it.

I was surprised by how much it affected them. They were so excited to see what they used to be like, and enjoyed laughing and mimicking themselves. But what seemed to affect them the most was seeing how enthralled Kelly and I were with them on the video. At different times they would snuggle in closer to us, and this whole past week they have been extra cuddly and loving.

But the thing is, our kids have no idea how we really feel about them.

They know they are loved, but they don’t know we love them to the moon and back. They can’t grasp the intensity of our feelings for them. They don’t realize we would do anything for them, that we wouldn’t hesitate to die for them, or how impossible it would be for us to live without them.

I resonate with what Elizabeth Stone once said about being a parent: “It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

At this stage of their lives, they simply don’t have the perspective to fully understand how loved and cherished they are. And it really has nothing to do with anything other than that they are our Addi, Levi, and Micah.

Maybe someday if they have children of their own they will know these kinds of feelings.

You and I are in the same boat when it comes to how God, our Heavenly Father, feels about us.

You have no idea how God really feels about you.

Sure, you know He loves you, and maybe that thought moves you to tears, but you still can’t fully grasp how loved and cherished you are.

Sure, you know all about Christmas and Easter, and maybe you have experienced some of the most overwhelming, intimate times with God, but you are still incapable of comprehending the fullness of God’s love for you. And it really has nothing to do with anything other than that you are His.

Maybe someday when we are finally face to face with Him we will be better able to understand that kind of love. But I would guess not.

It will have to be enough to know we are loved. And to long for those times of intimacy and enjoy those grace-filled moments when we feel His love. And to share that love with the world that God loves just as much as He loves you and me.

Where’s God?

I just got back with my students from a week at Engage, our annual youth conference. Incredible week; three days later, I am still amazed and humbled at how God worked in students’ lives.

Our theme was ‘IKON,’ unpacking what it means to be made in the image of God and what it means that we are being re-made in the image of Christ. Our speakers did a great job making the concepts understandable and applicable, and students were embracing it!

We, the church, are the image-bearers of Christ to the world. We are to live as He lived and be the place where heaven kisses earth. This is the mission He gave us; this is why the Spirit of God has been sent, that the power and presence of God goes where we go.

But last Friday, as we ended the last session and went our separate ways, was bittersweet. Early that morning, I had received a text from my wife asking if I had heard about the shooting in Aurora. The bubble we had lived in all week suddenly burst. The reality of life in this world was a cruel slap across the face.

We stopped at an Arby’s for lunch on our way back home, and there were televisions on reporting what had taken place in that movie theater in Colorado. I couldn’t take my eyes from the screen, and I couldn’t keep my mind from spinning.

A thought flashed through my mind. And not the typical, “Where’s God?” thought we have when we come face-to-face with evil and horror of this magnitude. We ask how God could allow this to happen. We wrestle with the problem of evil and a good God who is supposedly in charge of this world.

But what flashed through my mind was a different thought:

This is my fault.

This is our fault.

Where was the church? 

Back in the D.R.

Grounded. That’s what I feel here.

We’re back in the Dominican, and it’s good to be back. I will never get tired of seeing students getting a taste of serving others, seeing their arms and their hearts go out to these little ones.

I will never get tired of giving myself in this way either. We are so limited in what we can do in such a short time and with the language barrier, but what a blessing to pour ourselves out in an effort to show our love and share God’s love. It is sweet water to my thirsty soul.

We head to English church this morning, then Bombita this afternoon for home visits. Monday and Tuesday we will do VBS both mornings and visit two other neighborhoods in the afternoons. We get to pass out many of the things we brought Tuesday afternoon at Palm Village, one of the places I’m most looking forward to returning to.

And then we leave for home. It will all be over much too soon.

But we will carry these people in our hearts, and the contagious bug of serving others will come home with us, too.

The Avengers, Poison Ivy, Leprosy, and Middle Schoolers

Just another day at the office.

I’ve had poison ivy for two weeks now. I’ve never had poison ivy before. Some people can roll in poison ivy and never get it. Apparently, I’m not one of those people.

I’ve been on Prednisone (a steroid) to take care of it. One common side-effect of this happy drug is an inability to sleep. Apparently, I get this side effect.

Between the incessant scratching and the not sleeping, this has been the Best. Time. Ever.

Nighttime has been weird. I sleep for a couple hours, but not well. I’ve had a couple strange dreams.

Four nights ago, I had a dream I was a samurai fighting other samurais. We were fighting normal until I “realized” I could easily defeat them by scratching myself.

I woke up ripping my claws into my arms and chest.

A few nights before that, I had an even better dream. It was about the Avengers. I’m not sure if I was one of the Avengers or not, but they were in an epic battle. They were keeping the bad guy from destroying the world and of course sharing witty dialogue all throughout, when they somehow got tricked into thinking if they scratched themselves in strategic places victory was theirs.

Bad idea, Avengers. As soon as one started in (I’m pretty sure it was the Hulk: “Hulk, Scratch!”) there was a domino effect, and it was quickly all over.

They had not won, and I was fully awake and feverishly scratching all over my body.

The Prodigal’s Salvation

Photo via Russ Morris

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’

So they began to celebrate.”

Luke 15:22-24

Here is lavish grace: unwarranted, unexpected, unparalleled.

Here is sweet forgiveness: reconciling, restoring shalom, putting things back in their proper order.

Here is salvation.

This story reveals how Jesus understands the gospel, and there are two things that stand out from the father’s words and actions.

The Prodigal’s Return

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'”

Luke 15:20-21

The story takes another unexpected turn. Jesus gives us a glimpse of God’s heart.

The father is impatient and undignified in his desire for his son. He has been waiting a long time, who knows how long, refusing to believe his son was not coming back. So when he sees him, he runs to him.

Now we’ve all seen plenty of movies in which two people who have been separated are reunited. And it’s usually the same scene: At first they don’t see each other, then there’s the double-take and recognition, followed by a look of glorious shock, and finally they drop everything and run in slow motion into each other’s arms.

When we read that the father runs to his son, in our minds it’s the natural thing to do. We probably don’t realize how undignified the father is making himself. Running is not something a man of his stature would do. It would showcase his legs, which in that culture was one of the most humiliating things you could do to yourself.

The Prodigal’s Re-Education

Photo via Matthew Wynn

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son, make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.”

Luke 15:17-20

The prodigal has come to a point of repentance.

The common understanding of repentance in the Christian world is a 180-degree turn from sin to God. This is true, although it has resulted in limiting the word to the realm of moral transgressions.

Repentance is more than feeling really bad about the bad things you’ve done.

The word repentance, as it’s used in Mark 1:4, Acts 11:18, and many other places in the NT, comes from the Greek word metanoia. Breaking this word down literally gives us “after perception” or “beyond understanding.”

So metanoia, a.k.a. repentance, is a shift in someone’s perception and understanding. Therefore as I go through life, I can experience repentance in my relationship with rap music, Sunday afternoon naps, and pistachio nut ice cream, just to name a few random things. I can repent of anything.

The Prodigal’s Journey

Photo via Nadjib Aktouf

It’s hard to learn from others’ mistakes. We may cognitively understand the path we should take, we may be well aware of the dangers that lie on that other path, the history of human foibles and failures may be embedded deep in our minds, but we still choose to learn life’s lessons the hard way.

“You can’t tell me how to live!” is the cry of the toddler, the teenager, and everyman.

The prodigal son was no different.

We pick up our story here:

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went out and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.”

Luke 15:13-16

He thought he knew best. He forsook his upbringing, the way of his father. He embraced every whim and desire he had, and it was fun while the fun lasted. It might have been short-lived, but those temporary pleasures took the edge off his loneliness and emptiness.

Until the party stopped.

The Prodigal’s Request

Photo via Emre Danisman

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.”

Luke 15:11-12

When you read a passage like that, how do you hear Jesus’ voice? Is he speaking casually or earnestly? Does he have the big booming voice of a hellfire preacher, or the soft-spoken voice of a father to his infant son?

Do you ever wonder how his listeners are responding? We get no sense from the text here. Verse 13 on just continues the story Jesus is telling. But what he said most likely shocked his audience, even though we don’t necessarily get that from the passage.

You are probably overly familiar with this story. You have probably heard before how the younger son is not simply asking Dad for money to go live on his own. He is saying something much harsher.

Essentially he is saying, “Father, I want nothing more to do with you. I want to completely sever our relationship. You are dead to me.”