The thought of washing someone’s filthy, dirty feet makes me squirm.
Even the thought of having another person wash my feet makes me uncomfortable. It invades my sense of personal space. No thanks, I’ll pass.
In the Christian calendar, holy week is the week right before Easter. Maunday Thursday focuses upon the events of the last supper of Jesus with his disciples.
One peculiar event is Jesus washing the disciples’ feet.
“So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you… If you understand what I’m telling you, act like–and live a blessed life.” John 13:13-17 MSG
I thought of my role as a therapist as I contemplated Jesus’ teaching. I like to think of myself as a professional who serves his patients.
I see myself as willing to put my agenda aside to help my patients get better no matter what.
But do I?
When I was right out of PT school a physician referred a patient for a course of therapy for foot pain. She was a biker chick and when she pulled off her socks I tried to suppress a gag reflex because of the sight and smell.
She hadn’t washed her feet in weeks. Her toenails were black with grime and her feet were caked with dirt. I quickly began every appointment with a whirlpool treatment.
So much for washing one another’s feet.
My Incapacity to See The Reality of Others
I grew up in the social upheavals of the 1960s. Rock music, the Beatles, the Vietnam war, drugs, the sexual revolution and the emergence of the Me generation.
This type of self-centeredness is not surprising, nor unique to the 60s generation. There has been a relentless movement towards excessive individualization and self-improvement. It was a time of being free, doing your own thing, and self-actualization.
Just as Narcissus fell in love with his reflection we are a generation in love with itself. We are undeniably, people who are obsessed with ourselves.
We see this narcissism in our inclinations for individualism and our corresponding inability to be healthily aware of and concerned about the reality beyond our private lives.
My headaches, my heartaches, my problems, my hassles, my money troubles, my workload, and my worries are what’s real. It’s as if, other people’s lives and the larger community and its issues are not real.
I’m embarrassed when I catch myself complaining to my patients about the demands of my work. I’ve lost touch with reality beyond my pity party to recognize the hypocrisy of dumping my discomfort on my patients.
The tendency to make individual happiness as the center of the universe makes us naturally narcissistic. To ourselves, whatever we are experiencing is always hugely real. Our own reality is the paramount one.
Our Worlds Turned Upside Down
When we look at reality preoccupied with ourselves we see precious little of what is actually there to be seen.
When Jesus got up from the table, took off his robe wrapped a towel around his waist and began to wash the disciples’ dirty feet he turned their worlds upside down.
He jolts us out of our preoccupations with our inner private worlds to a structure outside our personal preference and comfort. Following his example puts us in a position to see reality in a new way–on our knees looking up.
While on our knees washing dirty feet we can be set free from our excessive preoccupation with ourselves to see the presence of God in our daily lives.
In other people. We can be free from ourselves to serve them with dignity and right motives.
For those of you who celebrate it, Happy Easter.
Now let’s go wash from dirty feet.