“Now before the feast of the Passover when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
You never said what I should be doing right now. You didn’t tell me whether I should stand and watch or stay away. I look up to you and at eye level I see the blood dripping off your toes. I don’t have the guts to keep looking at your suffering but when I shift my gaze I see my own dirty feet. My toes were clean a few hours ago, you washed them for me. Somehow it didn’t cross any of our minds in the moment to wash yours for you. You went to the garden with filthy feet and stood before Pilate on filthy feet. You walked on filthy feet to this place and now, bloody and exposed before the world, all I see is your feet and mine.
I don’t understand anything right now. You washed my feet, fed me and invited me to pray. Why did I spend those last few hours falling asleep? I can blame the drowsiness on all the food and the wine, but I feel terrible about it now. You did everything for me and my response was to wake up from an ill- advised nap and run away. I call myself “the one who Jesus loves” but my feet wouldn’t follow you when you most wanted a friend.
Why did you wash our feet? You knew what Judas was scheming and you knew Peter better than he knew himself. You must have known that when my feet got still in the garden that my head would begin to nod. You knew that when they came for you there my feet and my fear would carry me away. You knew then that when my feet finally found the courage to come back and stand at the foot of this cross they would already stink again.
We both have filthy feet and I don’t understand. Was there purpose in the washing? Or is the lesson in the dirt? What is the message you have for me? Should I look at the new dirt on my feet or at the blood and grime on yours? Why did you ever bother to wash me when you knew what a mess I would make of your work so quickly after you were done?
You told us you were here to redeem us, you came to seek and to save. You said they would take and kill you. We couldn’t tell until this Passover evening how those three were connected. We didn’t see that what, and how and when were linked so closely that redemption counted on it. I see it now in the blood dripping off your toes and mixing in the mud around mine. I see my redemption in this death on Passover, but I still can’t see why. If my feet didn’t even deserve the water you washed them in, why God, would you buy them with your blood?
You have put your terrible plan into action. This is what you meant to do all along. But I’m stuck right now. I don’t know whether I should step closer to you or to back away from the horrifying thought that you came up with this as the best way to save the world. My feet don’t have the courage to do either. My feet are scared to run away from you, you’ve always had the words of life, and my feet scared to run to you, your words brought you to this death. I’m stuck here in my tracks. I wish I could go back to the room and ask you so many questions, and I wish I had thought to wash your feet.
C.S. Lewis on the Numinous:
Suppose you were told there was a tiger in the next room: you would know that you were in danger and would probably feel fear. But if you were told “There is a ghost in the next room,” and believed it, you would feel, indeed, what is often called fear, but of a different kind. It would not be based on the knowledge of danger, for no one is primarily afraid of what a ghost may do to him, but of the mere fact that it is a ghost. It is “uncanny” rather than dangerous, and the special kind of fear it excites may be called Dread. With the Uncanny one has reached the fringes of the Numinous. Now suppose that you were told simply “There is a mighty spirit in the room,” and believed it. Your feelings would then be even less like the mere fear of danger: but the disturbance would be profound. You would feel wonder and a certain shrinking—a sense of inadequacy to cope with such a visitant and of prostration before it—an emotion which might be expressed in Shakespeare’s words “Under it my genius is rebuked.” This feeling may be described as awe, and the object which excites it as the Numinous.
~The Problem of Pain, p. 17
I haven’t found a passage of writing that captures this well the nuances of the fear of God in Scripture. The concept is often easily misunderstood, especially when divorced from passages like 1 John 4:18, and Romans 8:1.
Calvin argued that this sense of reverence is essential for prayer. The Psalmist tells us that God’s grace is accompanied by this kind of fear:
If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you is forgiveness, that you may be feared.
What we’re talking about here is not just our tendency to lurch and stumble and screw up by accident, our passive role as agents of entropy. It’s our active inclination to break stuff, “stuff” here including… promises, relationships we care about and our own well-being and other people’s… [You are] a being whose wants make no sense, don’t harmonize: whose desires deep down are discordantly arranged, so that you truly want to possess and you truly want not to at the very same time. You’re equipped, you realize, more for farce (or even tragedy) than happy endings… You’re human, and that’s where we live; that’s our normal experience. quoted in Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Tim Keller
Spufford’s statement captures the element of disorder and confusion that is common to our experience but not easy to describe. My conception of sin- of how deeply I am flawed- needs to be grounded more concretely, however. My desires and loves are disordered, but what does order and virtue look like?
After reading this several times through I remembered a section of a sermon by John Piper. He asks, “What is sin?”:
It is the glory of God not honored, the holiness of God not reverenced, the greatness of God not admired, the power of God not praised, the truth of God not sought, the wisdom of God not esteemed, the beauty of God not treasured, the goodness of God not savored, the faithfulness of God not trusted, the commandments of God not obeyed, the justice of God not respected, the wrath of God not feared, the grace of God not cherished, the presence of God not prized, the person of God not loved. That is sin.
After reading these quotes alongside each other, I had quite a bit to think about today.
Hello friendly reader. I’ve been on hiatus and I’d like to hop back onto the train. I began working part-time as a pastoral assistant last fall and I’ve repeatedly told myself that I needed time to transition before picking up writing again.
Interestingly, we’re almost eight months into this and I still haven’t made time for it. I need to resurrect the discipline of writing because it was one of the few ways I could reliably organize my thinking. Teaching has always been rewarding for me in this respect, but the writing had a way of giving depth and breadth to my teaching that just hasn’t been there lately.
In some respects my writing here will probably reflect concerns and interests that are developing in my pastoral work. Much of my focus in that regard these days is on discipleship- how do we become (and in turn lead others to become) people who carefully observe the teaching of Christ in our thoughts and our actions?
So my writing on Christianity and Culture will hopefully reflect this commitment. My aim is to constructively challenge you, gentle reader. In keeping with this, your comments and criticism are welcome for our mutual encouragement. The peace of the Lord,