I spent an hour after our boys were asleep watching eye-witness accounts from Iraq, Africa, and the streets of Ferguson. It all felt overwhelming. Yet it’s real and relevant and involves living, breathing, hurting people.
If we are privileged enough, we can build a life for ourselves free of experiential injustice. Or at least one where the “injustices” we incur are limited to rude treatment by minimum wage employees and getting cut off in traffic. When we choose to live in that kind of fictitious world, we end up absorbing those inconveniences with the spirit of a martyr and anger of a prophet. That’s how I often respond anyway.
I closed my computer, plagued with a sense of urgency. I opened up another eye-witness account — one that I’ve been returning to often lately. It’s a story about ultimate injustice and brutal betrayal. But there’s this astonishing response from the oppressed that keeps drawing me back.
Jesus is with his twelve best friends at dinner, the supper he knows will be his last before his imminent death. According to this witnesses, he gets up from the table, ties a towel around his waist, and pours water into a basin.
Without much discussion he just begins washing his friends’ feet. As you’re likely aware, they would have been dumbfounded by this as it was a chore reserved for slaves. In a walking, sandal-footed culture, feet were disgusting.
But that’s just who Jesus was. He came to serve, not to be served. He came for the sick, the sinner, and the hurting. At least once he had to remind his friends that the healthy weren’t the ones needing help.
The part of the foot-washing story that especially floors me is that he took time to serve and clean the feet of each and every one of his friends. Even Judas — whom Jesus knew was about to commit unthinkable betrayal — was tended to.
After Jesus finished, they all sat around talking for a while. He told them that just as he, their teacher, had washed their feet, they also should stoop low to wash one another’s feet. They should continue on with this way of living. He actually said they’d be called “blessed” if they did.
There are so many “enemies” in our world. Back-stabbers. Betrayers. Judases. So many sinners. So many just like me.
And what is Jesus’ response to us all? A heart postured in humble service. A gesture of greatest love.
This trumpets a call to serve within our homes, and then move outward into the world.
When the darkness of the world feels overwhelming, remember Jesus knows the darkness. He mingled with a demon-possessed man living in the shadows of a graveyard and showed him love. The people we might consider corrupt today? He ate in their homes — and offered love.
I don’t believe our role is to retreat in fear and hopelessness, but to do what we can to bring light to the dark.
When we look into the tear-filled eyes of a actual person, rather than the abstractions of a social issue, it’s easier to empathize with the pain. When we try to understand others’ pain, it becomes ours. And this is what compels us to cry out to God on behalf of our brothers and sisters, and on behalf of our enemies.
When in doubt, stoop down low to serve and humbly wash feet. Take on the hard, less desirable work. Jesus’ life was not glittered with glamour. He washed feet. But the love he offered was breathtakingly extravagant.