Our preacher read the scripture passage, from John 13:34-35, A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye love one another. Then he asked us, “Who said this? What was happening?”
For a rare moment, I had no clue. Me, the Bible major, Bible teacher had no clue. No one else in the congregation blurted out an answer, so I didn’t feel quite so dumb. Every face I could see from the choir loft had a look of chagrin and confusion. Good!
The preacher was so kind and perhaps a bit condescending. “Of course, you knew, Jesus said this at the last supper. He had just finished washing his disciples’ feet. And you know how he did it? He took off his outer robe. Then he wrapped his inner robe up around his body and got down and washed their dirty feet. He would have looked just like a slave.”
I’m sitting up there in the choir loft having flashbacks. I even got tears in my eyes.
Then the preacher started telling us about a church he went to where they had to wash each others’ feet from time to time. It was an Episcopalian church. Are you kidding? I had no clue such a formal group would wash stinky feet. The preacher told us that at each event the congregation members were randomly assigned to wash a different person’s feet. He never was assigned to anyone he would have wanted to be anywhere near, let alone wash that person’s feet. He suspected God planned it that way, so he would learn to humbly serve.
I was never in a church that had foot washing. Some believe it is a sacrament commanded by Christ, but most churches think it was just an example that we should humbly serve. I have to say, though, that there is nothing that tests your servitude like having to wash someone’s feet. The reason I know is because I had to do it once.
I worked several summers at a camp for mentally handicapped adults. The camp had one teenage counselor for every camper. I was in charge of the Bible classes, a nice dignified position that earned me lots of respect, even prestige. And so it came to pass that one of those summers the camp director got the whacko notion to have all of us staff and counselors wash someone’s feet at the end of the first day of staff training. So much for the “end of a perfect day.”
I freaked out. The whole hour, some sort of devotional to get us ready to serve the campers, I was squirming in my chair. Maybe I could leave as soon as the talk was over. No way was I going to touch someone’s feet, not some kid I didn’t even know. I felt like throwing up. In hindsight, I am not sure why it bothered me so much. I think it was more having to be that close to another person as well as how humbling it was to be doing such a task. Hey, I have cleaned toilets as a chambermaid in a hotel for a summer job while I was in college. That really didn’t bother me. It was having to get down next to someone’s dirty feet, someone I didn’t know, and wash them.
But I was the Bible teacher, after all. It dawned on me as they started passing out the towels and buckets that there was no way I, of all people, could sneak out. I was going to have to put on a smiling face, grit my teeth, and get through this ordeal.
My assigned foot partner was a sweet, serious looking, teenage young man. He started taking my shoes off, and then touched my feet with the warm rag full of water, a look of quiet respect on his face. No words were spoken. Suddenly I started to cry. Jesus had washed those disciples’ feet kneeling down before them like he was a slave. This young kid was kneeling before me now. I didn’t deserve this. When he finished it was my turn. I kept my face turned toward his feet, ashamed of my tears, but mostly humiliated that I had been too proud to even consider serving humbly, without recognition, without reward.
Years before that evening, a lady, who was like a second mom to me, gave me some advice. “Paula, you don’t have to be successful or get recognition. You just have to be faithful. That’s all God wants.”
I am now happily in the foot washing business. The pay is great – far better than riches of silver or gold. I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold.
Most of us old folks remember George Beverly Shea who wrote the music to “I’d Rather Have Jesus than Silver or Gold.” Listen to this youtube where he tells of the lady who wrote the words, a lady I bet you never heard of.