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Hands Off Our Feet, Jesus!

John's alone of the gospels has the footwashing. Why? Well, as John's Jesus explains, it is to set an example for us of service to others.

But I don't think John wants us to sit in the congregation this Maundy Thursday and watch Jesus wash some other people's feet and say, "Isn't Jesus a thoughtful person? We ought to be doing things like that in our church."

This text is not about watching Jesus put his hands on somebody else's feet. It's about letting Jesus put his hands on our feet. Not all of us want that. One reason maybe is that we're embarrassed about our feet. It's not as if we as the church of Jesus Christ are a foot model convention. As we get older, we may one day look down at our feet and say to ourselves, "Whose veiny, bulbous, knobby feet are those? And how did they get on the end of my ankles?"

A deeper reason we don't want Jesus handling our feet is because to allow Jesus to touch our feet is to allow him to touch our will. We all have a mind; we all have emotions; and we all have a will—our decision making power. Our feet are how we put our decisions in motion and get places, do things. We can think about doing something. "I think I'll go to her father's memorial service out of respect for her." We can feel we ought to do something. "I have a feeling it would be a good thing to do." But if we are going to actually show up and walk up to her afterward and offer a comforting embrace, our feet have to be involved.

To allow Jesus to cleanse our feet is to remove all that prevents us from using our feet to follow him. To scrub away our insecurities, to wash away our weariness, to buff off our bitterness.

And then our feet are refreshed to do what feet in scripture, in both the Old and the New Testaments, were meant to do. Follow God.

In the Exodus story, that is the back story for this Maundy Thursday meal, God says:

- "This is how you shall eat the Passover lamb: with your loins girded, your staff in your hand, and your sandals on your feet" (Ex. 12:11). In others words, be ready to move out to follow Moses out of this place of bondage and into the Promised Land. Be ready to use your feet!

- "Thy Word is a Lamp unto my feet and a light to my path" (Ps. 119:105).

- "You have delivered my soul from death, my feet from stumbling; I walk before the Lord in the land of the living" (Ps. 116: 8-9).

- "The gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life" (Mt. 7:13). You're going to need to use your feet.

- "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (Jn. 14:6). We're going to need our feet to follow that way.

- Alyce M. McKenzie, "Clean Feet: A Maundy Thursday Meditation on John 13:1-7," April 17, 2007.

Alyce M. McKenzie is Professor of Homiletics, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. She blogs at Knack for Noticing.


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