Foot Washing: What do you have to offer?

Jesus_washing_Peter's_feet“What do you have to offer?”  Not the typical Holy Week question.  But it really should be!

I have been reading a book about how to market books.  As I recently told my publisher, “I am not fond of the marketing aspects of being an author.”  Clearly, I don’t know what I am doing.  It isn’t – at least not so far – in my skill set.  But apparently it is part of my job description.

The first thing this marketing book says to do is to develop a brand.  I am to start this process by asking myself: “What do I have to offer?”  As I thought about this, I realized that it is an important question, but not just for authors.  In fact, with Holy Week coming up, I think it is something we should all be reflecting on.

After Jesus had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you?  (Joh 13:12 NRS)

There was a time when I bought into the “Jesus Says: Do the Crappiest Jobs” sermons I had heard about this scripture.  In fact, I may have preached one or two myself.  Who hasn’t heard it preached?  Wasn’t Jesus teaching his disciples to randomly take on the most humiliating, most unrewarding, lowliest tasks possible? Not exactly.

Consider this.  At that moment in history, Jesus was the only one who could wash the disciple’s feet.  No one else could do it.  He hadn’t picked out a lowly task in order to be humble; he was humbly doing what only he could do.  He says this in his exchange with Peter:

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean . . . “  (Joh 13:6-10 NRS)

Jesus wasn’t washing their feet because they had physical mud and dust on them. In fact, according to custom, they had likely already washed their own feet as they entered the house.  This foot washing pointed to spiritual renewal –  a cleansing of someone already ultimately clean – a forgiving of someone already ultimately forgiven – a renewal of vows to be committed to the well-being of the other.

Yet, Jesus was also demonstrating to the disciples that they were to serve one another like he served each of them. This meant perpetually loving, forgiving, and meeting all kinds of emotional, physical, and spiritual needs for one another — to be committed to each other’s well-being.

You call me Teacher and Lord– and you are right, for that is what I am.  So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.  Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.  If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. (Joh 13:13-17 NRS)

Just as Jesus was the only one who could wash their feet, our service to each other should also come from our uniqueness.  “What do I have to offer to you?” is the ultimate question when washing another’s feet.  “How can I love you, forgive you, care for your needs?”

We aren’t to pick out lowly tasks in order to be humble; we are to humbly do for each other what God has given us the skills and resources to do. This is a subtle, but incredibly important difference.  It is how we make the biggest impact in our world with the least amount of wasted time and effort.  But it also makes it essential for us to know the abilities and skills God has given us – to hone and refine them so that we can humbly serve each other best.  

Since marketing is part of a writer’s job, then I guess honing and refining my skills is what I am doing in reading this marketing book.  By the way, it might make sense for me to accept help from someone who has these skills already. This is how we wash one another’s feet.


April is a Red Letter Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs.  


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