Are you going to wash my feet?

Feb 15, 2016 by

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Two days after open heart surgery in January, I peed on my socks. You perhaps would do the same if a surgeon so recently had split open your chest, stopped your heart, and grafted in three bypass arteries taken from your leg, arm and inner torso.

Today these medieval buildings stand at the mostly likely location of the upper room where Jesus washed Peter’s feet. Roman armies utterly destroyed this part of Jerusalem in A.D. 135, and only foundations remain from the New Testament era.

Today these medieval buildings stand at the mostly likely location of the upper room where Jesus washed Peter’s feet. Roman armies utterly destroyed this part of Jerusalem in A.D. 135, and only foundations remain from the New Testament era. — J. Nelson Kraybill

Heavily sedated for pain and unsteady on my feet, I began — with limited success — to resume bodily functions. So it was that socks got soaked, and a nurse came to my rescue. She was young and attractive. In my beleaguered condition, I felt old and singularly unattractive.

Without a hint of impatience, she cleaned the tile floor and removed my socks. Are you going to wash my feet? I thought. She knelt and tenderly washed them with warm soapy water.

“You are washing my feet!” I whispered hoarsely as she dried my toes with a towel. “Yes,” she replied, smiling. “Jesus did that once,” I said. “Yes, I know,” she answered kindly. Then in a tone that let me know she is a believer, she added, “I love that passage.” That day, at a most vulnerable and humbling point in my life, a young nurse was Christ to me.

“Are you going to wash my feet?” said Peter to Jesus after Passover meal in Jerusalem. If it was humbling for me to let a young nurse wash my smelly feet, it was even more difficult for Peter to let his Lord do the same.

Self-sufficiency and pride are difficult barriers to overcome, and part of me resented being in the hospital. I eat healthy foods, never smoke and go to the gym three days a week. I take care of myself, thank you — and still something was wrong with my heart.

Peter, too, was self-sufficient — and did not think anything was wrong with his heart. But before that long Passover night was over, he badly peed on his socks. He impetuously lashed out with a sword at the High Priest’s servant in the Garden of Gethsemane. Then he got scared and fled into the night when authorities arrested Jesus. In the early morning hours, Peter denied that he ever knew his Lord — and then wept bitterly.

In March I expect to begin the Ornish Reversal Program, cardiac rehab that is designed to reverse the course of coronary heart disease. The name of the program is evocative, since reversing direction is the root meaning of biblical repentance (Hebrew shuv, Greek epistrepho). The Ornish program includes diet, exercise, stress management and relational components.

Sinners like me and you need the comprehensive heart-reversal program better known as conversion. We can fill up our spiritual horizons with activism, community and self-righteousness. But until we confess the sin of trying to be self-sufficient without the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, we have not owned that something is wrong with our hearts.

Letting Jesus wash our smelly feet might be the first step toward a new heart and a healing change in life direction.

Nelson Kraybill is a pastor at Prairie Street Mennonite Church, Elkhart, Ind., and president of Mennonite World Conference. See more of his peace reflections at peace-pilgrim.com.


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