“So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” —John 13:14–15
The disciples watched with indignation and astonishment, this Lord become a servant. As they watched, their anxiety ebbed some. And he said to them: “Do you know what I have done to you?”
The disciples are always concrete operational. They said, “Yes, you washed our feet.”
More than that, he said. “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”
The drama of the towel provided an example for the disciples to replicate:
•Replicate the truth that you have come from God; you are not your own.
•Replicate the truth that you will go to God; your future is assured.
•Replicate that the space between you and others is filled with a towel.
•Replicate that as you travel with towel and basin, you will be safe in vulnerability, treasured in obedience, and free from anxiety.
Jesus offered an example to his disciples that was a sharp alternative to all the available models around him. He broke decisively with the model of control used by the Roman empire. He broke with the model of his religious context of stratification and purity. He broke with all the social realities that control and stratification produce and found himself free and traveling light.
In his great act of humility and washing, he broke with all the models of humanity that are visible in our own time and place: the rat race of productivity, the fear for survival, the frenzy of accumulation, and the deathly sense of self-sufficiency.
And then, to be sure we had not missed the point, he said to his disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By that we will all know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.”
In this act, Jesus summoned and constituted an alternative community of which we are heirs. Imagine that a small community set down in the midst of the empire and all its aggressive militarism is a small community that refuses to participate in the anxiety of the world, because it imitates birds and lilies in the sure confidence that God in heaven knows our needs and supplies them.
Walter Brueggemann, A Way other than Our Own: Devotions for Lent