Lent Devotion 7: Foot-Washing for the Filthy Rich
“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and don’t need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.” (Rev. 3:17)
St. Peter reveals our prideful detachment. When Jesus knelt down to wash the apostle’s dirty feet, his response is ours: “Get up! Get away from my stench! Remember the fragrant things I do!’ Jesus responds to Peter and to us: ‘Unless you let Me wash you there [feet—the lowest, dirtiest parts of us], you can have no part with Me.’ (Jn 13:8)
Offensive Jesus wants the most offensive parts of us. He who at Calvary appalled us–‘His appearance disfigured, His form marred beyond human likeness’ (Is. 52: 14)—insists that we recognize in His suffering our sin. His battering unto death on the Cross is our bath. All humanity—better sooner than later—will bow before the Source of blood and water that makes all things new. ‘So shall He sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of Him.’ (v. 15)
Why then do we hide ourselves from His washing? Maybe we delude ourselves into wanting just a little religion, a taste of spirituality; we assent to Jesus without radical submission to Him. Kierkegaard calls this delusion the difference between admiring and following Jesus:
“To want to admire Christ instead of following Him is not an invention of bad people. No, it is more an invention by those who spinelessly keep themselves detached, at a safe distance from Christ…
They refuse to accept that Christ’s life is a demand. In actual fact, they are offended by Him. His radical, bizarre behavior so offends them that when they honestly see Christ for who He is, they can no longer experience the tranquility they so much seek after…
Christ’s life makes it terrifyingly manifest what dreadful untruth it is to admire the truth instead of following it. When everything is favorable to our Christianity, then it is all too easy to confuse an admirer with a follower. Give heed therefore to the call to discipleship!’
The church at Laodicea (Rev. 3: 14-22) admired Christ but did not want to follow Him. They wanted to toast Him from a distance, standing proud in beautiful leather shoes; they did not want to submit their stench to a foot-washing.
Wealth and ease of life are the most powerful enemies of the Gospel; riches had lulled the Laodiceans into spiritual sleep. They wanted a fragrant spray of spirituality, not the flood that kills in order to revive. Jesus refused to be just another additive to their ‘quality of life.’ In fact, He hated their compromise so much that He vowed to vomit them out of His mouth until they determined whether or not they were actually going to follow Him. (Rev. 3: 15, 16)
He gave them a chance to submit their stench to Him, starting with the right perception of their desperate state. ‘Your riches cannot hide nor atone for your spiritual poverty, nakedness, and blindness’ (v.17). He implores them to submit to the suffering that could make them rich (‘gold refined in the fire’ v.18), to the cleansing unto chastity and good works (‘white clothes to cover shameful nakedness’ v.18), and for healing ‘salve’ to open blind eyes (v. 18). He called them to attention: to see only Himself and the narrow way of surrender.
Jesus alerted them to their true condition in order to save them. He exposed in order to restore. In loving discipline, Jesus gave them a choice: ‘Behold I stand at the door and knock’ (v. 20). He was knocking but the door had to be opened from the inside. Repentance always involves our response. Once we open the door we must follow His lead, wherever He goes and regardless of the cost.
Are we followers of Jesus, or mere admirers? A look inside the church at Laodicea is a glimpse of our own tendency to want Jesus on our terms, not His.
The fact that we as a culture are torn by ‘gay marriage’ shows how far we have fallen and yet how proud we are of our self-sufficiency. Remember that the sin of Sodom was not first aggressive gay sex; it was arrogance born of wealth that resulted in a lack of concern for the poor and indifference to God (Ez. 16: 49).
The rebellious refuse Mercy. Though God has only compassion for persons with same-sex attraction, those who insist that such a tendency become the basis for an identity and a ‘marriage’ repel that Mercy with the worst kind of arrogance. It is born out of a consumer-driven ‘I will be and have what I want!’ attitude. Surely this is the greed, which is idolatry (Romans 1: 16-32; Eph. 5:5).
The only answer for us is to face our filthy riches. Will we be first the broken, stinking Bride in order to become His virginal one? Will we submit our feet and our wills afresh to the Crucified?
‘Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the Cross I cling;
Naked come to You for dress, helpless look to You for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly; wash me Savior, or I die.’
Rock of Ages