by Fr. Mark Hall
“Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” John 13:8
Backpacking can really be a lot of fun if you enjoy roughing it. Carrying all your gear for several days on your back as you traverse beautiful geography has its appeal. However, for all the beauty you take in, the one thing that is priceless upon returning home is a hot shower. Few things can replace that feeling of knowing you’re clean, especially after everyone who’s come within a few feet of you knows you’re dirty.
The beauty of nature is one way we can catch a glimpse of God’s glory, yet it ultimately leaves us with more questions about God than answers. To get a clear view of God’s glory, the Bible points us to Jesus, and we get a technicolor portrait in today’s reading. We see Jesus spending time with his friends on the evening he will be betrayed by one of them to his death. How does he respond? By taking it upon himself to get dirty.
I’m not sure if you’ve ever had the unfortunate experience of stepping in a dog’s fresh droppings that stick to the soles of your shoes. It gets worse when you don’t realize it until you’re with others and everyone notices a foul smell coming from your direction. Well imagine walking several miles a day on dusty roads that are heavily traveled by animals who take the liberty to relieve themselves whenever and wherever – and you’re wearing sandals. Most likely by the end of the day your feet would have a dark film coating them in unpleasantness.
This is where Jesus goes straight to the mess. It doesn’t matter that the job of cleaning someone’s feet is considered beneath a Jewish slave, he intimately enters into the stench we all want to avoid. Peter didn’t know how to take it, so he came up with a plan that seemed more utilitarian: “Clean my head and hands too.” But Jesus didn’t come to take orders about what we think is best for us, he came to clean up the real mess in our lives.
How mind-blowing to think that the God who spoke the beauty of creation into existence, chose to reveal himself as one who kneels down to take the messiness of our lives into his hands and make us clean. In order for us to become clean, Jesus had to become dirty. The cross represents the dirt and stench of our sins being placed on Jesus. Yet it was God’s love for the world, for us, rather than the nails that kept Jesus there with arms outstretched.
How glorious that even though we’ve all stepped in it, so to speak, Jesus did not declare that we have to clean up before he’ll bring us home. Even now he is showering us with his grace to make us clean. Will we let his love lead us out towards others, or will we keep our distance due to their messiness?
Fr. Mark ministers at All Saints’ Anglican Church