His new commandment is this: "that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another (John 13:34)." Love now defines the relationship between friends in community.
Jesus models such love with the act of washing feet. Typical in a Passover Seder is the ritual of washing hands, done by a woman present. Jesus does the washing at the Last Supper, and not of the hands, but of the feet. No act is too lowly when it comes to loving and serving your friends. He commands his disciples to do likewise: "So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet (John 13:14)."
Very few Christians literally wash feet today. If they do... it's the feet of their young children or grandchildren, or it's the feet of their grandparent or loved one who no longer is physically able. The service of literally washing feet is done for those closest to us and not to just anyone.
Of course Christians are constantly "washing feet" metaphorically. In their service to others Christians are making a difference by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, and caring for those in despair.
But I think there is an element that is missed when we look at "washing feet" only this way. And no, I'm going to propose we replace handshakes with feet washing. But looking at the words reported by John its pretty clear that Jesus commands "you also ought to wash one another's feet." In order for that to happen those in the community not only need to pick up a cloth and soap to wash their friends' feet, but they need to take off their shoes and allow others to wash their feet.
Jesus' command is not only to serve but to be vulnerable. Generally when we "wash feet" in the figurative sense we do it from a position of privelage. We share from our abundance:
- I have food so I'll give some to you.
- I have clothes so I'll give some to you.
- I have a home so I'll help you with shelter tonight.
- I feel blessed so I'll listen your problems.
But communial feet-washing means all are also called to take their shoes and let those dirty, stinky piggies out in the open. We may have food, clothes, a home and blessings in abundance, but we still need community... we still need love. Can we be vulnerable enough to acknowledge that? When we take our shoes off we open ourselves up to criticism and laughter. When we take our shoes off we submit ourselves to the hands of our friend who is answering the call to serve you.
Jesus commands us to "wash feet" and we do that often in the metaphorical sense. But when is the last time you allowed your friends in Christ to wash your feet? Probably never in the literal sense... but I would wager it's been a long time in the metaphorical sense as well.
Being called to love one another in Christian community means both serving and being served. Metaphorically speaking: pick up that wash cloth, squirt a little soap... and take your shoes off. You will find Christ in the heart of the gathering.