When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. (John 13:12-17)
About ten years ago I traveled to Guatemala for the first time with a group of students from Anderson University to Gualan, Guatemala. While there we were commissioned by the missionary to work on a nutrition center where people would go to get health screenings, food and medicine.
Group pic at the Mayan Ruins
Guatemala is one of the poorest out of the many economically depressed Central American countries. If you have ever been to a “third-world” country on missions work you know how your heart is warmed and broken simultaneously. You see beauty in the people, landscapes and the God who created it all. I will never forget jumping down the waterfalls, the mountains we scaled on a dirt road barely wide enough for our van and the landscapes created by them. I had just started to drink coffee at that time of my life so our visit with a remote organic coffee farmer was quite interesting. Since we were there over New Year’s Eve our group set off fireworks that that certainly are not legal here in the States. I have made sure my office reminds me of the visit with my souvenirs from the Mayan Ruins.
In Guatemala beauty is combined with poverty and the ugly effects of it. We spent a morning making as much rice and beans as possible and then loaded the van and headed to the dump to provide a meal for children. As we entered the dump the children swarmed the van that was loaded with “gringos” (slang for foreigners, they naturally associated “gringos” with food). Kids came running from the walls of trash that served as their homes to jump on the back of van while it was still running hoping they would get a meal that day.
As Easter approaches one memory sticks out more than any other about my first time to Guatemala. Every Thursday before Easter I am reminded of a day I spent working on the nutrition center with my friends. Two students named Joel and Marc, a Guatemalan missionary named Bert and I went to the nutrition center to finish putting some siding up that we had begun the day before. We grabbed our nail guns and worked two by two. One man was responsible for making sure that the tongue and groove siding sat level in its desired slot while the other shot in the nails.
A few hours into our work I heard a scream mixed with Spanish words I had never heard before and some English that I won’t repeat. I then looked down the long front wall to see Bert holding his hand. In the midst of his agony he jumped off the scaffolding and through the window. When he hit the ground he began jumping around and wincing in pain. Marc had shot him in the hand with the nail gun.
Yep! That’s Bert’s Hand.
After Bert arrived back from his trip to the hospital we discovered that fortunately the nail didn’t hit any bones. Bert came back with only a bandage, a sore hand, and no hard feelings. This helped Marc feel better knowing that Bert’s hand wasn’t damaged as bad as it could have been.
Later that night after dinner a group of girls in charge of the nightly devotion invited the rest of us to a candle-lit back porch. We were instructed to sit in a circle around a collection of bowls of water, towels, grape juice, and bread. As we sat we began to discuss the week and our experiences. We celebrated our time at the waterfall, meeting the coffee farmer, shooting off firework and seeing the ruins. We contemplated the brokenness we saw in the dump and orphanages. Then we prayed for the people the nutrition center would serve.
One the girls then read John 13. We took communion together and began to wash each other’s feet. At that moment I watched the gospel come alive as Bert dip his bandaged hand into the water and proceed to wash the feet of the one who had put a nail in it just hours earlier. At that moment I began to really understand footwashing. It’s a reminder that Jesus forgives the sinners who put the nails in hands. Jesus is preparing the men for the cross where perfect forgiveness will take place as he completely washes away their sin.
The Thursday before Easter (Maundy Thursday) is a reminder that forgiveness is at the heart of the good news. It reminds us that we are called to humbly serve and may even get hurt or be betrayed along the way. Jesus goes on with washing feet on Thursday although he knows that on Friday he will be on the cross. It’s a reminder that I have been forgiven and should go out of my way to forgive others.
We are told that, “You also ought to wash one another’s feet.” I come from a tradition (Church of God, Anderson) that practices this command and it reminds me that I am not greater than my master. Yeah, I know it seems weird, but it has served as a reminder to Christians to lay their pride down at the foot of the cross and humbly serve at the feet of others. I even believe, as Jesus has said, “blessed are you if you do it.”
This year we are encouraging our church to do this in their Growth Groups, Serve Teams or during Family Devotions. Here are some ideas for a time of foot washing with family or friends:
1) Have a Meal Together (Possibly Communion too)
2) Read: John 13:1-11
3) Ask: Why does Jesus want to wash his disciples’ feet? What is Jesus teaching them? Why doesn’t Peter allow him to at first?
4) Read: John 13:12-17
5) Ask: What commands are given in verses 14 and 15? What promise is given in verse 17? What should footwashing remind us to do? Is there someone you need to forgive? Is there someone you should be serving but refuse to?
6) Action Step: Take time to wash feet. This will require some tubs of water, wash clothes and towels. If you’re doing this in your growth group encourage spouses to wash their spouses feet. Otherwise, encourage women to wash women’s feet and men to wash the men’s.
7) End in Prayer.
We pray that as you participate in this service to one another that your love grows and disciples of Christ are made.