If you have ever spent a summer at camp you know a thing or two about stinky, dirty sandal feet. Hot feet on dusty pathways, sweaty from games of soccer and capture the flag are not a great combination. I would often take my sandals off at the end of the day and there would be a wavy rim of dirt, sand, and general muck around the soles of my feet. The end of a camp day would find me washing my feet in the sink of the girls' bathroom because I hated sleeping with dirty grimy sandal feet. My clean feet would make me feel human again. A small luxury while at camp.
Recently, my children were playing a game where they were washing each other's feet in our backyard. All over our backyard I found basins like the one pictured above. While I was cleaning out these bowls of black water I was reminded of Jesus washing his disciples feet in John 13. And I was struck by something strange. Here I was, rinsing black filthy water out of a basin - evidence that my children's feet were clean. But, in the paintings and images of John 13, the water is always clean.
The water is never black and filthy. And the disciples are never drawn to have dirty feet.
Either the feet should be clean and water dirty or the feet dirty and the water clean but both the feet and the water can't be clean if foot washing was done.
If my feet at summer camp taught me anything - there is no way around the fact that the disciples feet would have been disgustingly dirty. They would have been sweaty and rank, caked with dirt and feces from the roads shared by animals and humans alike. And not to mention the unkempt toenails and the hair and the imperfectly shaped toes, the scars, the moles and other realities of feet.
We do a disservice to this story by pretending the water and the feet were simultaneously clean. Jesus is kneeling down, stooping to the lowest place He could and serving them. He is deeply ministering to them - not only pragmatically because their feet were dirty but showing them that He is interested in this part of them too - the messy, mucky part.
It's easier to imagine the water being clean and fresh and the disciples having feet that were only slightly dirty. It’s a nicer picture if Jesus' towel shows no sign of filth. And it's easier to think that the disciples didn't really need Jesus' help.
It's not easy to think of Jesus having His divine hands on one of the dirtiest part of our bodies. It’s not easy to think of Jesus laying his hands in our sweat and dirt. In our smell. In our imperfection. His beautiful, healing, and gentle hands wiping away all the grossest parts of our human-ness.
It's not easy to imagine but we need that water to be dirty. We need it to be dirty because that means Jesus is doing something in our lives. He is taking things that we do not want away, He is healing us from our messes, He is cleansing us and restoring us. The water needs to be dirty.
And yet so often we, like Peter, refuse Him. We say that whatever He might find down there on our feet is too much. We try and clean our feet before we come to His basin. We will not allow Him to serve us there, in that place where we cannot even look ourselves. That place we cover up with fancy shoes and perfumes so we don't have to deal with it. The lie that Satan would have us believe is that we are too much for Jesus, our stuff is too much for Jesus. Our sorrows and our pain, our mistakes and our failures, no one could see it and still love us. No one could actually cleanse us and heal all of this baggage that we carry.
But Jesus knows about the "stuff". Whether or not we show Him, whether or not we try and clean our feet before we talk to Him. He knows. He knows all about the callouses and bruises on our skin, the deep cracks in our heels and the cuts, and the dirt under our toenails. He knows about the smell of our feet and our imperfect bodies. He knows the same thing about our hearts, minds, and spirits. He knows about the things we believe make us unlovable. And He is trying to show us that He loves us even there. He has a plan to restore it and use it for His glory but it comes at the price of actually letting Him touch our feet and getting the water dirty.
He tells Peter, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me."
Can you hear Him? "Unless you let me serve you in this manner, unless you let me touch the toughest, hardest parts of you - you have no part with me. This is the way forward. Unless you allow me to minister to you in these intimate and hidden places you have no part with me."
If we don't let Jesus into our failures, our grief, our weaknesses, our weariness, our sin, our shame, into the places we have no idea what to do with - we have no part with Him. But when we do we can commune with Him. We can know Him and be known by Him and this is how we experience His love. His love for all our untouchable places. His love for every last part of who we are. This is how we experience His kindness and His tenderness.
The one thing these paintings get right is the gentle strength of Jesus with His disciples. His tender care as He serves His disciples is so evident. I find myself crying when I think of how these hands - the hands that gave the blind sight and restored legs to walk and brought children back from the dead - these hands were laid on the disciples feet to wash and soothe and restore.
These are the same hands that wait for you.
We might just find that the more we let Jesus wash our feet, the more we will find our need to be washed and the deeper we will be drawn into Him.
His hands are ready and He is waiting and willing. And though the water might be dirty when he is done your feet will be clean and there is nothing quite like the feeling of clean feet.
When was the last time you let Jesus touch your feet?