More than Just Clean Feet

BY BEN FEITEN | April 13, 2017

Imagine being a disciple of Jesus. You have followed this man across Israel. He has performed miracles all over, has shown a preference for the poor and downtrodden, and has preached and demonstrated how we ought to live. You are sitting around with some of your closest friends and Jesus gets up, takes a towel and a basin and begins to wash the feet of one of your friends a few seats over.

What goes through your mind? Are you confused?

As Jesus wipes the feet dry, he approaches the friend next to you and washes his or her feet.

What goes through your mind now? Are you nervous because you see what is about to happen to you?

Jesus comes to you and looks deeply into your eyes, smiles, and begins to wash your feet. Perhaps you are confused. What kind of leader washes the feet of his followers? Shouldn’t you be the one who washes his feet?

As he gently massages your feet in the water and pats them dry, you feel humbled. You might ask yourself, “Who am I to deserve this?”

In getting on his knees and washing the feet of his disciples, Jesus does something radical. He shows that leadership is not at all meant to be a hierarchy. Rather, Jesus puts himself below the disciples so that he may serve them and lift them up.

As I imagine looking down and seeing Jesus wash my feet, I find that I am humbled.

A constant reminder of foot washing that hangs in the dining room of one of the L’Arche Tahoma Hope houses.

I am finding that perhaps my year as a Jesuit Volunteer at L’Arche Tahoma Hope is a yearlong foot washing—an experience in which I have continuously encountered God, been cleansed, and found myself humbled. However, rather than washing my feet, my experience with L’Arche Tahoma Hope has been a washing of my heart.

[socialpug_tweet tweet=”My experience with L’Arche Tahoma Hope has been a washing of my heart #JVReflects”]

When I think about encountering God, being cleansed, and finding myself humbled, one particular L’Arche core member comes to mind. On a recent L’Arche retreat, I was paired with a core member named Ricky who showed me so much about how to be in relationship with God. On this retreat, Ricky taught me how to trust—a grace I have been asking God for on a regular basis. As we took a tour of the retreat center, Ricky wanted to walk down a very steep ramp with a big drop on either side. Ricky likes to be very independent, but I was nervous and wanted to control the situation so that nothing would happen to him. In an attempt to soothe my own nervousness and keep Ricky safe, I tried to hold onto his arm as he walked down. He asked me not to and so I let go. Ricky then walked down the ramp with great ease.

Is there a better metaphor for how we ought to trust God? I find that it is so easy to try to control all aspects of my life, but perhaps God wants me to let go and trust, just as I did with Ricky. In receiving the grace of trust through Ricky, I was humbled and found my heart being washed.

[socialpug_tweet tweet=”Perhaps God wants me to let go and trust #JVReflects”]

On this same retreat, Ricky also showed me what it means to give and receive God’s love. As I sat with Ricky in silence, he looked over at me and randomly said, “You’re great.” I was a bit confused about how to respond because it was so unexpected. “What?” I asked. He smiled and said, “I love you.” He then stood up and gave me a signature Ricky hug with a gentle kiss on my shoulder.

Ricky and Ben being silly on Commitment and Belonging Day.

In this small encounter, Ricky showed me how God loves us. For me, it is so easy to think I have to do something to receive love. However, Ricky showed me that God actually loves us for who we are rather than for what we might be doing. My response was one that showed my inner struggle—to receive love for just being me (doing that can feel awkward). I can easily criticize myself, but God loves us for who we are and perhaps I need to love myself just the way I am. I was humbled to be loved for simply just sitting with Ricky and being myself and I felt my heart being washed as I learned more about what it means to give and receive love.

[socialpug_tweet tweet=”God loves us for who we are rather than for what we might be doing. #JVReflects”]

On another day on this retreat, Ricky once again exemplified the way God wants to be in our lives. After one of our meals, Ricky and I worked on doing dishes together. I did the washing and then Ricky would put them on the drying rack. As we continued, Ricky looked at me and said, “Thanks for letting me help you, Ben.” I was humbled. Ricky wants to help people just as God does. He wants so badly to be involved in our lives and to help us.

Spending time with Ricky on this retreat was a brief opportunity to understand how the disciples felt when they had their feet washed. I was humbled to be in the presence of a man who is a friend and a leader in my life—a man who serves me with so many graces and lessons.

That’s the funny thing about a year with Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest and my L’Arche placement. I came in expecting to serve, only to find that I am the one being served. I am served by core members like Ricky who teach me how to trust in God and others, how to give and receive love, the importance of letting God and others help me, and so much more. These graces offer me the opportunity to feel my heart being washed in a way that brings me closer to God in such a humbling way.

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