I’ve been thinking about foot washing and those lowly slaves/servants who were required to wash the feet of guests when they arrived. Dirty, dusty feet that have slogged through all kinds of filth on the streets of Jerusalem would be truly disgusting. There is no doormat that would make it okay to walk into a Jewish home that had been thoroughly cleaned for Passover.
The host offered no foot washing, the disciples hadn’t planned for it either. So Jesus offered to be the servant for the night.
Who today is equivalent to the foot-washing servant? I have an idea. I went to IKEA the other day. In the covered garage there are restrooms. I parked, gathered up my return, my recycling, and my list and stopped at the restroom. The door was open and blocked by a cleaning cart. A woman was standing there filling in the cleaning log posted on the wall. In a heavy accent she said, “One moment, please.” It made me think of the times I would get a call on the DV hotline from a Spanish-speaking person and I would say, “uno momento, por favor.” And mutilate all the Spanish lines until I could get someone who could actually speak Spanish.
It occurred to me that this woman is the foot-washing servant. She is paid to clean the public restrooms in IKEA. Our newer immigrants have these jobs no one else wants to do. Planting and picking crops, mucking out cow manure and milking cows, planting trees, bushwhacking, and shucking oysters and shaking crab.
Then I read another chapter in Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, An Altar in the World, and she described her job when she has time to volunteer at the local homeless shelter. Yes, she talks to people but early in the morning when everyone is turned out into the streets again it is time to clean and Barbara is assigned the toilets. “Is it the clergy thing? Or was it because I only showed up once a season?
Whatever it was, the toilets are mine-all three of them-all smelling of vomit, all splattered with diarrhea, all slick with urine. Short of falling headfirst into a septic tank, I could not imagine anything worse, which made it the perfect job for me. Scrubbing the bowls one by one, I thought of St. Francis kissing the lepers. I thought of Jesus washing feet. I thought of Mother Teresa bathing the dying of Calcutta. By the time I reached the third bowl, I was all out of spiritual fantasies, which left me free to remember that I too use toilets, occasionally as these toilets had been used. I was made of the same stuff as other humans. What came out of me smelled no better than what came out of anyone else. Welcome back to earth, you earthling. Welcome home, you beloved dirt-person of God.”
She had 3 toilets to clean-the woman at IKEA, I would guess, has over 50. IKEA has lots of restrooms and I’m not considering the urinals and sinks-and the restroom floors. I wonder about this woman-if she thinks about her own humanity while cleaning after the shoppers. I do hope that she recognized that I SAW her and appreciate what she does for a living. I saw her a while later with the cart and said, “We meet again,” and she smiled. I hope someone washes her feet today.
Maybe Jesus wanted to remind himself he was an earthling and relish the other dirt-persons of God.
“Helping, fixing and serving represent three different ways of seeing life. When you help, you see life as weak. When you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life as whole. Fixing and helping may be the work of the ego, and service the work of the soul.” Rachel Naomi Remen from A time for Listening and Caring
If Jesus was focused on serving and modeling how to serve, perhaps part of what he was saying was, “You are not weak, you are not broken, you are whole and we are all here to serve one another-complete and beautiful earthlings-dirt people.”