How the tension and confusion must have seeped into the room as their Master took off His outer garment and knelt over the basin. Accustomed to His social rule breaking, but baffled nonetheless, they watched with raised eyebrows. One by one, He washed each of their feet.
Did one or another feel embarrassment about the size or grime of their limbs? Did they recoil involuntarily at His touch? On He went regardless, the warmth of the water, the pressure of His hands on their aching soles.
Soothing, awkward, vulnerable, the washing smoothed away the dust worn into the feet He created. He had knit those limbs together in the womb with care and purpose and a future. Now He held them, weary and filthy from the world.
The only one who spoke was Peter. With pent-up cry, he voiced the indignation that had been shuffling between their glances.
When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.”
“No,” Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!”
Can you hear the “never, ever” of his words? But the Lord insisted. Not his whole body — that would soon be accomplished on the cross. Just his feet. The weary sore soles that had the most contact with the road.
I feel this. My soles aren’t weary and covered in dust (generally), but my soul often is. Reading bad news, moving from one crisis of small (or medium) children to the next, scrolling through people’s strong opinions on Facebook, navigating complicated situations with family and friends. The road is not kind to a soul, is it?
I used to read this section and think of how often I need the Lord to wash my feet. How often I need the dust of the road to be washed off, to spend time in the Word and let it purge the grime from my soul. “Please Lord,” I would pray, “wash me again.”
But notice what Jesus says to His group of followers, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14). Did they look around then at all the people they had worked with for three years and would have never thought to do such menial things for, and think, “Really?”
Perhaps they, like I, wished He had said, “What I have done physically, the Holy Spirit will do spiritually.” Or something like that. Anything but a command to be vulnerable with other people. Anything but an example to follow that requires me to give and need.
Please Lord, You do it.
But this past year, the Lord said “No.” And in the vacuum left by this “no,” I found a treasure. A friend that did the washing I needed. I won’t embarrass her, but I had no idea how much I was missing by not having another soul that would come close, see my troubles and shortcomings, and love me still. Just chatting with her is like a balm for my soul.
It was just a Spirit-moved, awkward, clunky text to another writer I admired. “Hey, I’ve known you for years and I love your writing. Can we be friends — like for real?” It felt like the first day of kindergarten. But she said yes! So we did. And turns out, she needed me too. Sure, it was awkward at first. But we kept at it.
Then one night, when I would have nursed my sorrow and been overcome with the burdens of life, I texted her. She was there. She listened while I poured out my heart and troubles in choking, choppy messages. Prose that made my writer’s soul recoil. And she heard. Washing my feet, she soothed my sore soul with words of affirmation and gentle comfort. And soon, she texted me in a crisis of her own and I had the honor of sitting with her for the day.
The thoughts of my heart are simple today. Dear strong, lonely sister, I would love for you to have a friend like this. And I believe that was the point of Jesus’ command. Ephesians 5:26 says that Christ “cleanses” us by the “washing of water with the word.”
Where do those washing words come from? They come from His Word. They come in songs on the radio and hymns we know by heart and spiritual sayings that we read in Scripture, hear from the platform, and are soothed by when a dear friend shares from the heart. Washing each other’s feet. In short, Jesus expects us to need Him and need each other.
True friendship between believers is like fertilizer in the health of the whole church. Too many of us needlessly go through life without such a friend. Could you be this kind of foot-washing, soul-renewing, trustworthy friend for someone in your life?
Maybe the Lord has already pointed someone out to you and you are thinking of her now. You could begin chatting and building a relationship, praying to see if this friendship could deepen, but you hold back. You are still begging the Lord for help and understanding, asking Him to wash your feet and getting no for an answer like I was.
Thankfully, perfection, experience, and confidence are not needed. Just vulnerability and problems. And we all have those, don’t we?
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