There is no occasion I cherish more in life than that which is inexplicably bound by awkwardness. Just like a good rug can tie a room together, if awkwardness defines the occasion my eyes are fully open and I feel alive. The chaos and inescapably of a good wholesome awkward situation seems more lifelike than a formal ceremony or a birthday song for a toddler.
Foot-washing, outside of it's biblical context, is one of those rousing occasions which breeds the awkwardness I always seek to drink deeply from.
So naturally, if there is a foot-washing I catch wind of, I am there. Like the young adult who will travel to great lengths anytime their favorite evangelist is in state, or the 16 year old apostolic girl who secretly sneaks into the newest Twilight movie out in theaters for her "Edward fix," I get my awkward fix amidst buckets of hot water, scraggly towels, gender-segregated rooms and a whole lot of Man-ankle goodness.
One time someone asked me if God had a sense of humor, and upon deep reflection, I replied "yes" and pointed to his command for foot-washing as an example.
Because here's the deal:
There was a custom in Jesus' time wherein foot-washing by the servant was quite the commonplace. Feet had to be washed because feet got dirty because people walked with scandals or barefoot through the dirty streets. The people of Jesus' day didn't have the luxury to be able to take off their shoes the moment they walked into someone's door as to leave the dirt at the entrance. That was impossible. So the next best alternative was a good old-fashioned foot washing. Everyone knew what it was; even if you weren't religious.
So then Jesus throws everyone off by washing all his disciple's feet. He became the servant instead of the one looked up to. He leads them down instead of up ( i could feel all mushy inside if i keep on thinking about it).....
And the disciples are all like "Jesus, no!"
And Jesus is like "jokes on you kids....if you thought you knew what following me was all about, think again. Learn to get embarrassed for my sake."
And the disciples, at least as they are portrayed in Mark are genuinely ticked. They thought it was all about the up and up and Jesus is like, it's all about getting on your knees and washing stinky, grimy feet that smell bad.
but then here is the best part.....he kind of words his commands oddly enough to where you can't tell that when he tells the disciples to wash feet, he is talking to them alone or to everyone who reads scripture....
And that's the funny part....Because I can almost envision Jesus at this moment thinking 2000 years into the future when no one else in the Western World will be washing feet, but Christians themselves and he's just got this smirk on his face.....
Because what made sense as a symbolic act in Jesus' culture (foot-washing) had somehow been elevated to being a universal law separated completely from it's actual cultural significance.
But I am getting to far ahead of myself. The humor regarding us and foot-washing is how we view it. Do we seek the act as humiliating (because that was the point of it)? Well I guess if I had to do a foot washing in the public for all to see without expectation that it will be done back to me, then I guess foot washing serves it's purpose.
But this is where it starts to get comical....the way we set up foot-washing is more of the childhood notion "I'll do it if you do it." In other words, no kid smokes his first joint or drinks his first beer alone. He commits his sin hand-in-hand with his brother as they take the plunge together. Similarly, we all only only commit to get on our knees and wash feet when we know that someone else will be doing it to us. Once again we are falling away from "those who are last will be first" and running ourselves right back into a "tooth for a tooth, eye for an eye" Christianity.
So then there we are, as a church fulfilling the literal command to wash feet (and thus we are obeying God's word), but yet, in our commitment have severed ourselves from it having any cultural significance, and further have lost the principle behind the servitude because we are all doing it to one another.....
I can't help but get this image in my mind, where i sat in my classroom in fourth grade on the first day of class and the teacher had instructed us children to introduce ourselves to each child and give them two complements in the process. And the room quickly became filled with mummers of how nice someone's glasses were or how nice of a smile someone else had. And i can explicitly remember, "is this real?" Sure the complements were being given, and we were obeying the teacher but the actual sincerity was completely empty. I for one couldn't believe one single complement that came my way, and I didn't believe anything I said to others.
I don't think foot-washing is so empty in it's action whatsoever, and I do really struggle with the biblical command of foot-washing's place within our own culture, but we must ask if the foot-washing we partake in is what Jesus had in mind when he made the command? I honestly don't know, because i think there is a good explanation either way.