Jesus was no PR man!
Jesus Washing Feet
When I worked for an aircraft manufacturer they began a campaign, as many companies do, to ensure they have a good image. They invested in charities anyhow, and paid staff to volunteer with local schools and doubled what staff raised for charity each year. But they recognised that one of the things being in the aircraft business had a bad image on was inevitably the environment. Somewhat unfairly in some ways, in that aircraft designers are constantly working to make aircraft more efficient and therefore more environmentally friendly, at least from a certain point of view. But I digress. What they invested in campaigning about was biodiversity. It was a safe but important area. Generally as an aircraft manufacturer they were not causing a great deal of damage to biodiversity. And could invest time to tell people about it without neccessarily putting themselves out. That must be the PR mans #1 objective – improve our image without committing us to too much risk or cost.
Jesus is no pr man. He doesn’t do things just for show and he doesn’t much care what people will think of him by doing it. Here in this Gospel Jesus strips down and puts on a towel – we can’t quite imagine how radical an act this is. It is not easy and it is costly. It is real. St Francis, when he decided to give up his life as a soldier and the son of a wealthy merchant is said to have taken off all his clothes, so the bishop had to find a brown cloth to throw over him – hence the friars habit. It would be like you or me taking off our clothes putting on rags. The act is necessary – it is not simply lip service and it is challenging. These disciples would have had incredibly dirty feet. Jesus is not wrong when he says the only bit of you that needs cleaning is your feet. The disciples were wearing sandals on dirt roads with all kinds of mess. Washing feet was as important to them as washing hands after playing outside might be to us. So he proceeds to wash there feet – an act of service neither felt comfortable accepting.
When I did some management studies I discovered by one of the many personality tests that I have a tendency to become a ‘heroic leader’ that is to do everything for my self. I can remember as a youth refusing lifts places because I didn’t want to rely on somebody else. Knowing this, I work hard always to ask for help and, even more difficult, to accept it when it is offered. But this particular act of service is so intimate, so personal. Not unlike the act of eating itself – it is contact with a part of our body we keep covered. During one of the recent gatherings of bishops at Lambeth – one of the gatherings where many bishops were saying – I won’t come if he’s there or if she’s there – they were made to wash one another’s feet to challenge them to be reconciled to one another, even when they were so divided. But then our faith and Christ himself are always there to challenge us, to push us a little out of our comfort zone. Not to do so unkindly or to mock us, but to help us to grow and challenge us to be transformed by god’s love. To stretch us and help us to be
So as we go from here, perhaps we should ask how we are being challenged and in what way we should serve God in a new way in this place. How we can make a real difference in a way that is necessary for our world and our community today. Quite possibly not in a way that gets us lots of credit, but none-the-less, any form of service doesn’t go unnoticed. And what we might find is, much like Jesus, others will know us by the love we have for one another, and they will want to join us in bringing the good news of God’s love to life in this place.
The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams