Entering With Clean Feet

by Theresa Newell

When I was a grade school child, I felt the pull of Gospel stories. Holy Week especially drew me. I wanted to enter into the drama to whatever extent I was able. I decided that to really know how the disciples must have felt having their feet washed by Jesus at the last supper, I needed to start with dirty feet. Walking around in first century sandals through unpaved streets and on dirt paths must have gotten the disciples’ feet pretty filthy, I reasoned. To make sure I got the feeling of having dirty feet washed, I would avoid washing my feet starting several weeks before Holy Week. I would run my bath, sit on the edge of the tub, and lower the rest of my body into the tub while my feet remained outside. In this way, my child brain thought, my socked and shoed feet might approximate those of feet filthy with first century living. Thus, I purposefully prepared to enter Holy Week with dirty feet. 

On Holy Thursday, I would read the relevant scripture from my Children’s Bible and take a bath, carefully scrubbing my feet as clean as I could. I would then “anoint” them with dollar store perfume. It felt wonderful to have clean feet! Then I would pray the scripture, feeling what it might have been like to have my feet washed by my Lord. In my Children’s Bible, Jesus says, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with me.” I knew that it was custom in first century Palestine that an honored guest may be welcomed into someone’s home by having their feet washed, usually by a servant of the host. I imagined that, following this custom, Jesus was welcoming the disciples to his home as honored guests, and they ought to accept this welcome to have a “part with” Jesus. 

I have long thought that, when I die, Jesus will be there to wash my feet and welcome me into his home. 

I told this story once to a group of catechumens. One of the people who heard it died of cancer about a year later.  On the night before she died, I said to her, “When Jesus comes to wash your feet, tell him about me.” She gave me the most perfect and beautiful answer anyone could.  “He already knows.” 

May we share a part with the One who already knows us and loves us. 

Theresa Newell is a hospital chaplain, a postulant for Holy Orders in the Diocese of Olympia, a wife, and a mother to mostly grown foster, adopted and biological children. She lives in the Seattle area with her husband, the youngest of her children, and her Great Dane.

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