I watched again as I have several times over the past two years, as Major Hofer washed the feet of one of the “disciples” attending Holy Spirit Day. Twice a year, those attending the ALPHA Course come for a daylong teaching and experience of the power and Person of the Holy Spirit. It would be easy for this to become mundane, almost mechanical, as the same teaching is repeated to a different group of people. God, however, is always about teaching us something new or giving us a new way of looking at old truths. That happened as I watched the foot washing.
Typically we associate Jesus as not only the superior, but as deity, washing the dirty feet of a disciple. We become a little put-off at the pride of Peter [who I am sure was not alone in his thinking] as he began to reject the gesture. No! This one who has been my teacher, my leader, my inspiration, my companion will not wash my feet. And, we sense the embarrassment of the disciples as they realized that not one of them was willing to bend, to stoop to the menial task.
I do not dispute this interpretation at all but as I watched the re-enactment before me again and thought about the context of the original foot washing, along with the words of Jesus: “A new command I give you, that you should love one another,” a new perspective was given to me. Jesus was not washing the feet of his disciples as their superior. He was washing their feet man to men. In other words, it was not out of his position of authority or power that he washed their feet but as a man recognizing his own need and willing to reach out to meet the very same need in the other men with him.
We do not like to be people in need. I had a conversation this morning with a friend of mine of 30 years who stated it exactly: “I don’t like being dependent on people, even my wife, in this situation.” We don’t like being dependent upon people. We don’t like feeling that somehow we are needy. If we can wash others’ feet from a position of power and authority, it somehow gives us the edge, makes us feel like we’ve done such a good deed for someone else. But as soon as we wash another’s feet, recognizing that we need others to do the same for us, it becomes a different story.
The new command was interdependence—not independent actions of charity from a lofty position. It is impossible to love well until you embrace your own humanity. And now that I have given this further thought, I’m not sure that Jesus ever intended this to be an act of hierarchy. It is meant to be an act of community, a circular act of giving and receiving.
The real power and authority of the kingdom is expressed in just such liberating acts of footwashing.