Foot washing


I. Pilau Feet!


When I was a boy, I either wore zoris, slippers or thongs, or I went barefooted. The ritual at the front door with my mother went something like this: Looking at my filthy appearance (I played hard in the dirt), she would say: “Ah! Moi lepo! (which in Hawaiian meant, “What did you do? Sleep [moi] in the dirt [lepo]?”

Then she’d catch sight of my feet. “Ai, pilau feet! (which in Hawaiian meant my feet were rotten, putrid. Mother was prone to exaggerate). “Get out! Go wash the ashi!” (which in Japanese meant feet–wash the feet.) “Turn on the hose and wash the ashi! How many times do I have to tell you!”

Or, if I was wearing zoris, I’d have to leave them at the door, outside on the front or back steps, whichever entrance I used. The steps were lined with slippers and shoes. Every Japanese household had a pile of slippers at the door. What a mess! I had to find my slippers when I went out again, among in the pile. The problem arose when I couldn’t find mine, or I was in too much of a hurry and borrowed somebody else’s zoris. “How many times do I have to tell you?” my mother would say. “Use your own zoris, not your brother’s or your sister’s or mine or your father’s!”

This was our custom or ritual at the front door. Partly, it was a matter of cleanliness. My mother thought we should be able to eat off our floor–it should be that clean. It was of course a losing battle to keep the floor clean with seven children tramping in and out of the house.

Partly, it was a matter of courtesy and hospitality. We always had to take off our shoes when we entered a neighbor’s house. Sometimes, when my feet were dirty, my mother would say, “The kid’s feet so dirty. Can he wash his feet before he comes in?” There was always a water tap close by where we could wash our feet.

Our custom in Hawaii was not exactly like the Jewish custom in Jesus’ time. In Jesus time, foot washing was not only good hygiene and hospitality, it was also a cultic act.


II. Intimacy in John 13: 1 – 20

You know, I don’t usually show my feet to people. My feet aren’t cute baby feet any more. They’ve been shut away many years in shoes, hard shoes. But that’s what Jesus wants. Jesus wants my pale bare feet.

I don’t know if I can take this…. What can be more intimate than to expose my feet to someone’s hands. Wait a minute…let me wash them myself…don’t you have a servant or son or daughter who could do this? Not you….

But then…. What can be more intimate, and soothing, than to have my feet carefully and lovingly washed by some other human being, be it by someone who is close to me or someone who is a stranger.

How powerfully intimate! How mindbogglingly intimate! It is as if Jesus is saying, If I wash your feet, surely your mind and heart will follow. Be intimate and vulnerable with me, as I am with you. Service without intimacy and vulnerability is not my service. Without them you will experience neither me nor the Father.