I wasn’t exactly a saint when dealing with Frank. He was incredibly frustrating to take care of. And it was a thankless job: he literally wouldn’t speak. And cleaning human excrement off a grown man’s ass is just not fun. It was humiliating. There I was, a recent college graduate. I could read the Bible in its original languages, I could discuss all sorts of ancient religious texts. I had written a dang THESIS on Melville and Calvin and ok it wasn’t very good but I was still SMART. I had knowledge and wisdom to offer the world but there I was cleaning up shit for little more than minimum wage!
But it was good for me. And an experience I needed. Because it’s easy to spout platitudes about “loving other people” when that “love” is returned and recognized and appreciated. It’s easy to serve when serving is fun and the people you serve know how lucky they are to have you. It’s easy to give when it’s old clothes or the money that you know deep down you don’t strictly “need” or when someone tells you how generous you are. It’s easy to “serve” when the service isn’t beneath you. But then that isn’t really service at all, is it? Because to truly serve is to place yourself beneath another person. A person who, in the proper order of things, ought to be beneath you instead.
Jesus was that kind of servant. I think we forget that for Jesus to take on the role of servant was the ultimate act of humility and debasement. Sometimes we see his washing of the disciples’ feet as “a super sweet thing Jesus did!” Instead of as an act of extreme humility and service, a task suitable only for the lowest of servants. Since the humiliation of feet-washing doesn’t quite translate into our contemporary culture, it might be helpful to think here of something we DO recognize as humiliating; like cleaning the excrement covered behind of a mentally ill homeless man. I’m not trying to be crass or irreverent here, just trying to get at the meaning of a pretty important passage.
“A super sweet thing Jesus did!” Oh, so very true. Especially now that foot washing is a ritual that we only encounter once a year. It’s interesting to watch, and I imagine slightly embarrassing for those being washed, but I’ve never considered that the action in Jesus’ time was not only a demonstration of His’ humility, but a humiliating act. I understand St. Peter’s reaction more so now. Anyways, go read the rest. It’s a wonderful piece. Something I certainly need to put in practice more. (And the last sentence makes me laugh.)