I am one of a small handful of women in the world who dislike getting pedicures. The language barrier and my ticklish feet are part of my discomfort, but the biggest issue I have is that I don’t like the feeling of being served. Today, as the temperature inched over seventy degrees for the first time and I grabbed my flip-flops, I realized with horror that a pedicure was… oh, what’s the word I’m looking for? Necessary. Oh yes, necessary is the word. A winter of long-distance running had done some damage, so I swallowed my discomfort and made my way in to the salon.
As I sat in the massage chair on this Tuesday of Holy Week, I couldn’t help but see the parallel to the story we will hear on Thursday. Back then, Peter didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet either, but he insisted, creating a model of service that all Christians are supposed to follow. The Scripture that talks about their interaction is interesting. As they were eating…
“…Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” John 13: 3-5
Jesus is clear about everything in that moment. If he had ever questioned just who he was, or what the great plan was for his life, those thoughts and doubts had ended. This kind of clarity about purpose leads one to be prepared to empty out for others, to teach with example, to use your time well. Jesus is a good example of this, and everything, actually.
Back in my chair, I wished it wouldn’t take as long as it was taking. I would have shelved the scrub and the leg massage in favor of everything just looking okay. My spiritual life is much the same. I look for quick fixes, and I am sometimes more concerned with how things appear than in how I actually am in a given moment. (This is always a mistake.) As the technician gave me the full massage treatment, I noticed that my circulation improved, and this was something you could both see and feel. Like God, she was not content with an external improvement, but changed me from the inside out.
As we chatted, I noticed the women around me were mostly on their phones, and I understood. Maybe they were uncomfortable with the interaction, too, and they were retreating. It can be the hardest thing in the world to come face-to-face with a person who is serving you, and phones make a convenient wall. As I look back on it now, I realize I didn’t ask her name, and I am a lesser person for it. Still, we chatted about the cherry blossom trees my daughter will see when she is in Washington DC this week with her classmates, the same trees the technician travels to see each year with her family. Getting to know some small thing about the people around us, whether in service or in being served is probably one of the most important things we can do, as we can always find some common ground. After all, we are branches and blossoms that spring from the same tree.
As we enter Holy Week, we are encouraged to find ourselves in the characters of the Great Story, to prayerfully walk in their footsteps through the events that changed everything. Maybe we are ‘Marys’, faithfully attending Jesus even when it’s the most painful, or maybe we are ‘Herods’, too wrapped up in our own power to see the grace that’s right in front of us. Maybe we are like Simon of Cyrene, who helped Jesus carry his cross, or like Pilate’s wife, who was motivated by dreams and whose words were long remembered, though perhaps fruitless in the end.
As we walk, maybe it’s good to remember that it’s the interactions and relationships between them all that tell the story. Pilate and his wife. Jesus and Peter. Mary and John. As we are transformed from the inside out, as we serve and allow ourselves to be served, and as we step forward on our common road, one foot in front of the other, it’s important to remember that we never walk alone.