For the umpteenth time this summer I filled my bathroom sink with water and hoisted my 5 year old up to stick his muddy feet in the water. I can’t say that I was all that patient or calm as he kicked and splashed muddy water all over me and my bathroom walls and floor and sink counter. I’m not a patient person.
This is a minor and yet frustrating part of my summers—the muddy feet thing. I didn’t have so much of a problem with it when I was up at that Fishing Lodge early this summer. It was easier there. I didn’t have a house to be concerned with. I didn’t even really care about how dirty his sleeping bag liner was getting, as long as his feet were inside it. And boy! Were his feet DIRTY up there!
Worse even, is that his feet dirty HERE, at home, in civilization! And since I have a house to keep somewhat clean, there I was filling the sink with water and scrubbing off blackened soles and toes (and oftentimes kneecaps and shins because usually I’m just too tired or it’s way too late to start a bath). Besides, for the most part, it’s just his feet that need attention before I let him loose in the house or tuck him in bed.
The thing is, about dirty feet, that I’ve come to realize is that they just won’t stay clean. For some reason there is a part of me that assumes—however wrongly—that they will. I will wash them and be done. Never again! I’ve done it, and now he’ll just remember to put on socks or stay out of the mud and pay attention to keeping his feet clean. I’ve coached him on it every time I set to washing his feet. “Seriously kid! Watch where your feet are going! Put on some socks! Stay out of the mud! Think about what you are doing!” But he never does. And his feet just won’t stay clean.
I was musing on this as I set his feet in the water of the sink, when something clicked in my brain about another feet washing story. The one where Jesus was sharing a meal with his followers, when he gets up and takes off his jacket, wraps a towel around his waist and fills a basin with water. Then he goes and starts washing his friends feet. For some reason I have always thought of this as a ritual—possibly compounded by wedding ceremonies in which I saw the groom washing his bride’s feet and vice versa. They were washing each other’s feet as a symbol of how they were willing to serve one another, following in the pattern Jesus set at the Last Supper. I always viewed it as a one-time event. They would wash feet and be done.
But then I realized that feet just won’t stay clean. They just don’t!
And I thought of how Jesus is so incredibly aware of how feet just won’t stay clean. And how this task he set before His followers would not be just a one-time event, but something that would have to be done repeatedly. Over and over and over again for the same people (not just new and different ones, because that is understandable after all.)
Then I thought of how serving people often requires you to forgive them for being so ignorant to your service. I think you must be really good at forgiving to be a real good servant, because it’s grace in it’s barest form to keep bending low to wash those dirty feet that just keep on getting dirty. Truly serving is living in a state of grace and forgiveness. You don’t just have to do it once and be done with it. You will find yourself having to do it over and over again. Because people just keep messing up, just like feet keep getting dirty. They screw up repeatedly, either out of intention or inattention—just like little boys with mud.
Possibly they will wise up as they grow up, and having to bend low and extend grace to them will only have to happen once a day instead of fifty. But I wouldn’t count on it, because as I’m coming to understand, feet-washing is a menial task that requires a humble and forgiving heart willing to do it more than once—maybe even 70 times a day! For life. And that’s what I coming to realize that Jesus did when He picked up the basin of water and the towel—He’s showing you and me that he’s extending us grace, not just once in a ritual, but in the everyday menial task of washing feet.
Lost in these thoughts, I stare at those wiggly black toes in the water as my fingers scrub and tickle them pink again, and I am reduced to worship. The aggravation that had threatened to burst loose from my lips has melted away, and what remains are the words from a song.
“Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;”