On Feet and Forgiveness

“With the basin, God’s people are schooled in the humility necessary to serve in Christ’s upside-down kingdom.1 The practice of foot-washing challenges our deeply held goals and aspirations by replacing popular conceptions of success with a vision of radical downward mobility. On another occasion Jesus told his disciples, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all” (Mark 10:43–44). If this is not challenging enough, the practice of footwashing delivers one further assault upon our prideful, self-sufficiency; not only are we called to wash others’ feet, we also must learn to allow others to wash our feet.2 This was Peter’s struggle. The conversation that unfolds between Peter and Jesus following Peter’s initial refusal to have his feet washed suggests that there is more to having one’s feet washed than simply allowing oneself to be served by another. Jesus’ references to a bath and a person being clean suggest that beneath the surface there may lie an underground stream connecting foot-washing and forgiveness. Just as it is easier to wash feet than to have one’s feet washed, in a similar way it is much easier to forgive than it is to be forgiven. However, through the practice of foot-washing or, more accurately, having our feet washed, we receive training in being a forgiven people, who in turn are freed to offer to one another the gift of humble service, whose pinnacle is forgiveness. Those pilgrims who have bathed in the waters of baptism are clean, but until they reach the Promised Land they will need to wash each other’s feet.”

Excerpted from Robert J. Dean, Leaps of Faith: Sermons from the Edge (Eugene: Resource, 2017), 112.

  1. Reflecting on the practice of foot-washing, Jean Vanier writes, “It is always very moving for me when someone with disabilities washes my feet or when I see a person wash the feet of their mother or father. It is the world turned upside down.” Jean Vanier, Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John (Ottawa: Novalis, 2004), 228.
  2. Stanley Hauerwas and Romand Coles, Christianity, Democracy, and the Radical Ordinary: Conversations between a Radical Democrat and a Christian (Eugene: Cascade, 2008), 208-228.

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