Recognizing and Honoring One Another’s Humanity
by Jennifer Maidrand
Isaiah 50:4-9a 🌿 Psalms 70 🌿 Hebrews 12:1-3 🌿 John 13:21-32
So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. -John 13: 14 (NRSV)
In the Lenten season of the liturgical calendar, Maundy Thursday is a day to commemorate the last meal that Jesus ate with his disciples before his crucifixion. And it is a day, or evening, that is often commemorated with foot washing ceremonies. The act of washing the feet of those we are in community with is a practice that might be dear to some of us, off-putting to others, or perhaps for some, seemingly outdated.
In the ancient world, foot washing was an act of hospitality–something you would do for guests who entered your home, whether planned or unplanned. I imagine that wiping the dust from another’s sandal-clad feet was a way to welcome and connect with them, extend care to their wearied body, and communicate that they were welcome in that space.
Within the context of the story we read in John 13, Jesus takes a surprising position. He plays host, demeaning himself to an act often performed by unwealthy hosts or those in positions of servitude. His disciples’ response is a mix of shock and outrage–“You will never wash my feet,” exclaims Peter. Yet Christ affirms that his intent is justified, and is in fact a practice that those who follow him must carry on. Through this scene, we again see Jesus condemn the existing social order–that we must care for, and honor, those who appear “below” us in the social order, those who are recognizable enemies, and those who just don’t “get it” (the primary role of the disciples in the Gospel of Mark).
I wonder, though, what the contemporary church ought to make of the practice of foot washing given that this is no longer an act of hospitality in the life of the church or our world today. I wonder what other acts of care, hospitality, and invitation we might imagine in its wake.
My most salient memory of washing another’s feet is a snapshot from my teen years on a dusty mountainside, where I washed the feet of a distant peer during a week of discipleship-centered camp in the Sierra mountains. I first remember feeling uncomfortable, scrubbing the feet of someone I knew only from a distance. And then a tenderness emerged–I encountered a window that invited me to see this person in a different light and perhaps know them in some sense deeper than surface level.
I believe deeply in the act of foot washing. Not because of its biblical origins or even as a specific tradition, but rather because it evokes in us a humility to learn about the other–to see them with new eyes. In our work seeking peace and justice in the Middle East, it is easy to become divided, to make enemies, and even to categorize others as those who just “don’t get it”. But the way of Jesus invites us to walk a more challenging path: to recognize the humanity in the other, and care for the particular wellbeing of that person. We are called to “wash one another’s feet” and affirm one another’s humanity.
At Churches for Middle East Peace, we seek to live into this call by following the lead of our siblings in the Middle East and “refusing to be enemies” with anyone we encounter in our work. Not only do we provide educational resources and coordinate multi-narrative trips to Israel/Palestine for our constituents, but we as staff are always seeking to learn from those with whom we disagree. We share meals, have conversations, and work collaboratively with people of every perspective so that we can faithfully advocate for peace, justice, and human rights for all people of the Middle East.
Humble God, may we follow in your footsteps–so closely, perhaps, that we are covered by the dust of your sandals. Let us create space this Lenten season to reflect on how we might best “wash one another’s feet.” Embolden us to seek your kingdom creatively, and emulate the values you hold in ways that resonate authentically in the world that we live. O God of compassion and radical sacrifice, may we be humble enough to heed your call to care for those who suffer, to eat with those who do wrong, and wash the feet of any who might walk through our door. Let us live the invitation.