I could not help but compliment the bank manager on her beautiful manicure. I have seen some, let’s say, striking claws in my time but hers were tastefully painted and of a reasonable length to carry out most of life’s necessities without too much digital contortion.
Hers probably stood out to me because mine were such a contrast. “Gloves!” She said, “When I am good and remember to put them on before housework, my nails reward me by looking gorgeous.” I agreed…somewhat. It only takes a few instances of glovelessness to decimate cuticles and send nails splitting, breaking or withdrawing, leaving hands looking like well, …a domestic’s.
There, I admitted it. I did not want my hands looking like I ever did housework, let alone, for a living! That is why I cringed the day the prayer counsellor said to me during a session, “You have servant hands.” I know she intended it as a compliment but I was mortified.
The whole incident came back to me as I read again of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet at His final supper with them. He made it clear that the act was about more than removing the dirt of the day’s encounters or travels:
“If I your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
It was about being willing to be a servant to others: a position to be coveted, according to Jesus.
Funny, how I don’t mind being described, especially in the right company, as ‘a humble servant’ but to bear the marks of one: the towel wrapped waist, the crouched posture at the feet of another, the pruny fingers and the destroyed cuticles? Not so much.
My own pastor says it often, “ You cannot wash someone’s feet without getting your own hands clean.” And I know he also means more than the literal removal of dirt from the feet or hands. Being willing to serve others in the most humble way, from the right motive, has a way of purifying the heart, of exposing and stripping away pride’s stiffened layers and leaving us more pliable, impressionable and vulnerable to being conformed to the image of Christ.
The image of Christ: answering the call to servanthood — another chance to resist the urge to remake Him in our image. We yearn to identify with Christ the King, like Jerusalem’s throng when Jesus entered prophetically riding on a donkey, like the two brothers, James and John, who aspired to sit on the right hand and on the left of Jesus’ throne in His Kingdom, and like Judas.
Jesus asked John and James if they were able to drink of the cup He would face as suffering servant: the scorn, the shame, the mocking, the beating, …the dying. I am curious as to where their minds went when asked, but they answered in the affirmative. Something tells me they did not count on it being quite the journey they would wind up taking. It did not take much for the temple leaders to sway the disappointed crowd and as for Judas, his flight from servanthood led him down the darkest path of all – master of his own ill-fated destiny.
But Jesus drained the cup of servanthood of the scorn, the shame and the disdain for us. We get to follow a path well laid out and a road faithfully travelled, from the Savior Himself to the heroes of faith throughout the Scriptures and those of the Church down through the ages of each of its iterations. The journey of servanthood conforms us to His likeness and prepares us to share in His glory.
And so this Lent we pray:
“Jesus, not just the hand moistened with fragrant spikenard to the head but also those smeared with the hurt and brokenness of the ‘least of these your brethren’, washing them with our tears and wiping them with our hair; make us, in our whole being, ready and willing servants of yours. Amen”