Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not 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!” (John 13:8-9 esv)
Humility is an interesting word and not something we 21st-century people are comfortable with. In our, get ahead of everyone regardless of the cost world; humility is not part of that process. We also link humility with humiliation, which is not the case. One can be humble without being humiliated.
In my own words, humility is placing others before you, not in a look-at-me way, but in a natural concern for what others need. In the Masonic Lodge, we talk a lot about helping brothers and their families but not at the expense of our own. That is humility.
The passage I quoted above from John’s Gospel is an excellent example of this idea of humility. Jesus is washing his disciples’ feet, an unusual thing for a person of the status of Jesus. Washing your guests’ feet was usually appointed to the lowest member of the household. Here Jesus is standing this tradition on its head to show how we are to serve each other.
As you know, I had surgery this past week on my ankle. I was in the hospital for a few days after being in bed and unable to care for myself. I have always done it for myself and get very uncomfortable with others doing it for me.
The day after surgery, I was lying in bed, and one of the nurse’s aides came to my bedside. She asked me if I wanted to clean up. I said yes, and she left the room. A few moments later, she returned carrying all sorts of things to help me: Washcloth, towel, soap, clean sheets, and something clean to wear. I could not get out of bed, so this would be a new experience.
She handed me a heated wet towel and described how I would clean myself. She did not do it but watched over me with a caring eye. She gave me additional washcloths, and the exercise continued. She gave me a clean “johnny” to wear and left while I cleaned the private bits.
She returned a few moments later and told me she would change the bed. I reminded her I could not get out of bed, and she asked me to trust her. She guided me the entire way. She laid me flat and told me to roll one side. She gently removed the dirty sheet and placed another in its place, pushing it as far as possible. While I was on my side, she took one of the remaining washcloths and very gently washed my back. She had hands and words of authority, but, at the same time, she was very gentle.
She dried my back and guided me as I rolled back onto the new, clean sheet. I was now to roll on the other side, the side with the broken ankle. She waited as I regained my strength and carefully rolled on my side. With all the skills of a surgeon, she completed making the bed before I knew she had started. She gently rolled me back, ensured I was comfortable, and then raised the bed.
I have worked in hospice for nearly 20 years and have great respect for our aides’ work, but this was the first time I had an aide work on me. They are the silent ones, the ones who come in the night and check on you. They are the ones who wash you and change your bed. They are angels, and they are the hands of Jesus.
These gentle souls are there constantly. They are professionals that help in the recovery process. They are as much a part of the team as the doctors and nurses, maybe even more critical. They do their work with a smile and a reassuring touch that brings a sense of calm to you. They treat each patient in their care as if they are part of their family.
A tear welled in my eyes as I thanked my angel for what she had done for me. She smiled, took a tissue from the box, and wiped my eyes. And as quickly as she appeared, she was gone on to the next patient.
I was embarrassed and ashamed that I needed someone to help me with the necessities of life. These gentle souls showed me that I need to humble myself and let others do for me while I heal. Sure, there is much work I must do, but I need to allow someone to bring that cool glass of water and help me clean up.
I shared this experience with two minister colleagues who told me I needed to let them help me. Sometimes we must allow others to be Jesus for us and wash our feet. It is a good reminder of how we are supposed to love and care for each other.