How little we understood at the time! We loved him, as far as we were able in the smallness of our understanding, he touched places inside us that no one else had ever touched, and there was the tang of deep truth and wisdom in everything he said. But half the time (alright, to some extent most of the time) we simply didn’t have a clue what he really meant. Every time he turned our world upside down, we tried, with ridiculous futility, to turn it back the proper way and then figure out where his words fitted in. I still remember the look in his eyes when we missed the whole point yet again and again and again. But he never gave up on us, and showed us that God is patient with us beyond our wildest dreams.
And this, of course, was the most topsy-turvy night of all, and I am still moved beyond tears when I remember any detail of it. It was the night that began with God kneeling at our feet.
It was Passover, and we were there in an upper room in Jerusalem. The food and wine were on the table, and we had begun the familiar ritual, the recalling of God’s great act of liberation, when Jesus rose from the table and took off his outer garment. He had our complete attention, but none of us were prepared for what happened next. He tied a towel around his waist, poured water into a basin, and commenced to work his way around the table, washing our feet – the job normally allotted to the lowliest servant, a slave’s job really. And he was the master! We should have been washing his feet, not the other way round! (So why didn’t we? That question was to haunt me for a long time afterwards, because I already knew the shameful answer. We were far too concerned with trying to score points in some obscure competition to prove which of us was the greatest. None of was willing to demean ourselves. But he, who was our Lord and our God, had no hesitation at all.
We were embarrassed, no, ashamed. With one simple action he was laying bare the hidden places of our hearts. Of course, I had to be the one to put it into words, to cry out, in the arrogance I mistook for humility, “Lord, you shall never wash my feet!” But when he told me that I had no share in him if I did not let him wash me, I backed down, extravagantly demanding that he wash my hands and my head as well! When would I learn to simply obey, to know that what he gave was just exactly right?
I understand now, as much as I can while I walk this earth, and, yes, I weep with the wonder of it. Yes, he meant us to learn servanthood from his example, and that is true forever, but there was something even more. We had to humble ourselves to accept his gift, we had to be prepared to accept the cleansing he would bring us by humbling himself beyond even servanthood, becoming nothing and dying, in our place, as an outcast and a criminal. We are the servants of God, and the servants of one another, because God himself first became the servant of us, and truly turned the whole world upside down.