Dirty Feet

“…What kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming…” (2 Peter 3:11-12)

On the eve of His crucifixion, Jesus did a curious thing.  He took off His outer robe, wrapped a towel around His waist, took a bowl of water and began to wash the feet of His disciples.  Peter was incensed to the point of refusing this service from the Lord.  I think his motive was right; it was improper in his mind for the Son of GOD to perform a servant’s task.  Jesus made it clear that Peter’s understanding was off-center.  Peter, being Peter, went whole hog, “Well then, don’t just wash my feet, but my whole body!”  Again, Jesus clarified things for him; the rest of him was already clean.  His feet were where the need was (John 13:1-17).

There are many believers today who practice foot washing in their churches, treating this act as a sacrament in the same way as baptism and the eucharist are treated. I think, though, if we restrict this teaching to a literal command to wash the feet of others as a spiritual practice, we can miss a larger point.  I believe Jesus was making a point about being holy and our need to help each other live that way.

1st century Palestine was a dusty place, and foot washing was probably as common for its residents as brushing teeth is in our day.  Walking, the common mode of transportation, would easily make a person’s feet dirty.  Even activity in and around the home would have a similar effect.  The phrase “shake the dust off your feet” was more than symbolic; people had enough dust on their feet to shake some off.  Daily living exposed walkers’ feet to the common dust, dirt, and detritus of the road.  They could never be fully clean until their feet were clean.

In the same way, daily exposure to the common things of this world can have this effect on us, dirtying-up our “feet,” leaving its remnants on us, conflicting our thinking, our aspirations, our commitments, even as the rest of our spiritual bodies are “clean.”  A regular cleansing of the soul is always in order so that all of us is GOD’s, all of us is committed to His glory, all of us is filled with His Spirit, nothing is held in reserve, i.e. being holy.  And this, according to Jesus, is what we should do for each other as He did for us.  I am my sister’s and my brother’s keeper.  They are mine. I am accountable to them, and they to me.  We wash the feet of one another when we help and encourage each other to “walk worthy of our calling” and when we respond affirmatively to that help and encouragement.

Except in certain circles, we don’t hear much about holiness and holy living today, even in the Church.  For many, being holy is an irrelevant and outdated concept inconsistent with the values and preferences of contemporary life.  Others may not go to this extreme, but don’t believe it’s possible to be holy so it’s effectively dismissed.  Others like the concept but avoid focusing on holiness head-on, treating it like super-Christianity.  All three perspectives are in conflict with the Living and written Word of GOD.

The message I see is that not only is holy living possible, its pursuit is necessary to have fellowship with Jesus.  So…“Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep His promise.  Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.  And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near (Hebrews 10:23-25, NLT).

© Byron L. Hannon, 2020.  All rights reserved to original text content.

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