Matara is a land of milk and honey, a land filled with God’s abundance. Claude and I went to visit our friends there wanting to spend time in their homes and surveying the bounty together. It was a great morning witnessing the staggering progress of this once impoverished community. Now they are local leaders, now they have food to share with neighbors, now their children are top of their class!
The rain came suddenly. We decided it was time to make our way down the steep dirt road. I walked carefully, yet still careless enough to loss my footing. Before I knew it my feet slid out from under me and I landed on the ground belly-flop style. My shoes flew off my feet.
My friends rallied to my side immediately. They took my hands and walked me, barefoot, down the now muddy path. Sometimes they lifted me so my feet skimmed the ground. I needed their help, but was also ashamed I needed it.
Once we reached the bottom of the mountain I hurried into the back seat of our car. I sat there with the mud hardening on my feet.
Someone tapped the window. When I looked it was Godis, an elder of the community. I cracked the door open and noticed she was holding a plastic basin of water and a bar of soap. She gestured for me to turn toward her and put my feet in the water.
I never deny Godis anything she asks of me. So I put my muddy feet in the basin. Now her teenaged son was holding the basin so she could wash my feet herself. She rubbed the soap up and down the length of my foot. Her hands rubbed from heel to toe, her fingers pushing between my toes to get all the mess out. Then the other foot was washed. Someone else handed her a pitcher of clean water and she poured it over my feet, rinsing them clean. Now I had clean feet and she had a basin of dirty water.
Tears streamed down my face the entire time, like the rain coming down the mountain. I was honored; I was humbled. I was also grateful. She cleaned my feet not out of ceremony but necessity. She even dried them with her bright-colored skirt. Foot washing was no longer a religious gesture. It was what I needed.
When Claude and the others got back in the car we said our good byes, waved, and drove the winding roads toward the city. I sat speechless with my clean, pink feet. Something holy transpired and there were no words to describe it, just a fresh wave of tears every time I thought about my feet in her hands.
Jesus washed the feet of his band of friends during their final supper together. He told them this was an example to them. They should wash one another’s feet as He washed theirs, since servants are not greater than their master, nor messengers greater than the one who sends them. I always thought Jesus was instructing them to be humble and take on the position of a servant; that seems a reasonable gleaning from the story.
But Godis washed my muddy feet at the bottom of a mountain in the rain; her skirt became a towel. She did what needed to be done. She cared for me and was willing to do whatever it took to ease my pain, restore my dignity and send me home in good condition. It wasn’t really about the feet at all.
When I’ve attended foot-washing services in various churches, people put their mostly-clean feet into the basin of clean water. There are washcloths and towels. Maybe it is still humbling to wash feet or to have others wash ours. But afterwards the basin of water is still pretty clear. Has anything been washed away?
Godis used her bare hands to scrub my feet, her calloused fingers between my toes, her own clothes becoming a towel. The basin was brown when she was done. There’s something about seeing the reversal before your eyes – muddy feet and clean water become clean feet and dirty water.
When I remember our foot-washing I don’t recall Godis taking on the position of a servant, I remember her caring for me and doing in that moment what I did not have the resources to do for myself. It’s happened to me before – someone bringing over a meal when I’m to sick to cook, someone changing a tire for me when I’m stuck roadside without the proper tools, a friend translating for me when I don’t know the language. I wonder if foot-washing is about humbling ourselves or being available to one another in the most mundane ways. (Perhaps both…)
I imagine Godis understands what Jesus’ tableside demonstration meant. Take care of one another – not only with grand gestures but in the most mundane ways – provide what is needed. Now whenever I visit Matara she meets me at the foot of the mountain. She takes my hand. Godis knows I’m not so steady on my feet and so, once again, she offers what I need.