Written by Martin Copenhaver
"Then Jesus poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him… Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.'"—John 13:1-17
A parishioner in my former congregation tells about a conversation she had in a small store near the church. She saw a man who looked vaguely familiar and asked, "Didn't I wash your feet last Thursday?" The man responded, "I think so, but it was rather dark, so I can't be sure."
She went on: "I had never done anything like that before. That's why I was so nervous."
"Well, it was a first for me, also."
Then they both became aware that the shopkeeper behind the counter looked both shocked and confused by what she was hearing. Seeing this reaction, my parishioner rushed to reassure the shopkeeper: "It's not like it sounds. We are both part of Village Church. We do that kind of thing there." The aghast shopkeeper laughed nervously and then abruptly changed the subject.
It is good to know that Jesus' followers are still capable of shocking others by their outrageous behavior. After all, we are following a master who consistently shocked others by doing outrageous things—like washing his disciples' feet, a servant's task.
It has been customary through the centuries for the Pope to commemorate Jesus washing the feet of his disciples by washing the feet of twelve priests at the Vatican each Holy Thursday. Over time, it wasn't shocking anymore, but more like a beloved ritual.
Then comes along Pope Francis, who washes the feet of priests, yes, but also women, prisoners, Muslims, people with disabilities. Many have been horrified by his outrageous behavior. Others, like me, rejoice that a simple act of servant leadership still has the power to shock and inspire.
Jesus, help me confound other's expectations—even my own—through surprising acts of love.
Martin B. Copenhaver is the President of Andover Newton Theological School, Newton Centre, Massachusetts. His most recent book is Jesus is the Question: The 307 Questions Jesus Asked and the 3 He Answered.