If Jesus was God and about to leave the world, surely He would depart with a huge speech or teaching. If you are about to leave your friends forever wouldn’t you enjoy a huge feast and celebrate all the memories?
Jesus knew that a cruel murder awaited him. He sits down with the twelve disciples for one last meal. These men are his brothers – He loved them until the end.
Yet in the last moments, there is no big speech. He doesn’t leave them with a good memory, a blessing or one last sermon. Jesus doesn’t expect anyone to thank him for all the miracles and the teaching, nor does He wait for everyone to worship him.
Instead Jesus takes off the clothes that He is wearing. Dressed in nothing but a towel this man gets up from the table…
Honour and shame culture comes into play here. Interestingly, there is a huge amount of pride in appearance in the honour and shame world; if you look smart, you are honourable. It is incredibly shameful to be seen wearing your working clothes out of context.
This story reminds me of our house helper in Guinea. There too, honour and shame culture determines the way of life. It was custom for our Nene to walk to our house dressed in her finest clothes. Only once she arrived and the gates of the compound closed would she change into clothes worthy of dirty housework.
In the same way, we see Jesus physically step out of his dinner clothes and put on the scrubs of a servant. He culturally emphasises that He is ready to serve. God takes on the appearance of a houseworker. This requires so much humility.
Jesus then starts to wash his disciples’ feet.
In many hot arid climates, dust sits everywhere. It gets in your shoes, on your clothes and even in your ears. Orange clay coats the whole house which must be cleaned daily. The journey to this meal will definitely have resulted in orange, filthy, smelly feet.
Just imagine it:
Jesus hauls a heavy water jar. He uses all his strength to pour out some of this water into a basin. Then, bending his knees, He picks up the weighty basin and carries it to the first of his friends. Setting it down, this teacher begins to scrub at the orange, thick dust. A clay-like coating clings to Jesus’ hands as He carefully cleanses. Taking the foot, He dries it on the towel that He is wearing, inevitably wiping away the remaining residue.
With a towel stained orange and damp, He picks up the basin and moves along to the next.
There is just so much love in this. I remember daily cleaning my feet in Guinea. Each night before bed I would begin the ritual cleansing in order to be clean and ready for rest. This dirty chore was a symbol of arriving home and preparing to stay put for a little while.
“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should also wash one another’s feet.”
Jesus was a teacher. He clearly taught us to act no greater than anyone else. Leaving earth, Jesus’ final lesson was no rulebook. The truth He left behind was this: Blessed is the one who washes another person’s feet for no master is greater than his servant.
Jesus came to serve us. This Lord is one who lifts weights, takes our dirt and carries it upon himself. He welcomes us into a clean, warm home where we can stay put forever. Blessed is Jesus for his compassion and mercy.
Blessed are those who say yes to this free gift of love. Then, out of this love, blessed are those who live out such an example of humility, revealing the love of Jesus to others.