While waiting for our table to be ready, I read this sign at Bubba Gump’s wall: “Decision Maker. Floor Sweeper. General Manager. And all around good guy.” Under the sign is the name of the General Manager for that particular branch of the restaurant. Cute noh? Made me smile.
A General Manager that sweeps the floor. Great image in my head. Someone who is important but not feeling too important that she can’t touch the broom anymore once promoted to leadership. Not that we expect the General Manager to be in-charge of sweeping the floor all the time, that’s somebody else’s job. But when needed, she doesn’t have any problems doing a menial task that would keep the store clean, presentable and as such would contribute to the pleasant dining experience of the customers they serve.
In today’s Gospel in John 13: 1-15, we read about Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. An act that has been described so many times as a model in servant leadership. Jesus explained the meaning of his act as setting an example of how the disciples should serve each other. Probably a teaching that was also meant to re-emphasize that each of them should not indulge in hallucinations of their individual “greatness” as the Lord’s disciple but should focus instead on seeking ways of taking care of each other.
I totally understand how disciples could be uncomfortable having their great Teacher touch their dirty body part and scrub it at that. Remember that previously they weren’t comfy when a woman used all her perfume and washed Jesus’ feet with her hair. Imagine the hesitation, the confusion, or how silly this might have seem to them at that time.
One of my college mentors did that to us in one retreat. He went around the circle and cleansed our feet. I was uncomfortable. I didn’t expect it. I was ashamed of my dirty feet. I was too self-conscious about being exposed, of being touched where it was stinky. Others shouldn’t be doing the kind of cleaning I should be responsible for, I thought.
Ceremony and the teaching spotlight aside, it’s not totally comfortable either or even pleasant to be cleaning other people’s feet. Generally, any job of cleaning is associated with a lower economic status. Blue collar. If you have that job, you are automatically assumed or exposed as not having achieved much academically and struggling materially. To some, that exposure is a cause for shame, for low self-esteem.
Jesus, who is a respected teacher, a miraculous healer, and a leader of reforms chose to act silly and perform an act that bears significance to his own purpose, shunning all petty criticisms that weren’t as important as the message that needed to be communicated. He needed the job to be done. Humanity cannot cleanse its own sin. Divine intervention was required. He knew they needed an example too of how to live out the commandment on love. Something memorable so as the teaching will stick with them even after his death. Something beyond talk, something experiential.
As I look back, I remember the people who made a great impact in my life. And they are people who served me in some way, who surprised me by going out of their way to help me clean up my act, build me up when everything seems falling apart and care for me when I can’t bear to face another day. They didn’t just text their sympathies to me or wished for my well being on Facebook, or just gave me a list of what I should be doing. They walked with me, sat with me and assisted me in carrying my own cross when it became too heavy. They expressed their belief in me in practical ways that actually helped. Something which I will never ever forget. And I know that when they did what they did, something changed in me.
Jesus wanted things to change at that point in history. He knew that it’s not going to happen only by imparting words. He needed to do the dirty work himself. He had to touch people in places that were uncomfortable but unforgettable. He had to cleanse humanity of its own filth and he had to do it even if it meant using his own blood, his own sweat, his own tears.
Written by: Red Macalalad