There’s a funny little story about Jesus found in the book of John that I’ve always found fascinating. It takes place the night before Jesus dies, the night of his arrest, when he’s sharing his last meal with some of his best friends. If you’ll remember, in the middle of dinner, Jesus gets down on his knees to wash his disciples’ feet, which is a responsibility reserved only for the lowliest of servants. I call it a funny story, not because washing (or even touching) another person’s feet is weird, but because a rabbi like Jesus (who happens to also be the Son of God and the savior of the world) would never, ever, ever do something so proletarian.
A lot has been made about what Jesus did and how incongruent the job was to his station. We talk about how, if we really want to be like Christ, we need to be willing to stoop down and wash others’ feet like a truly humble servant. And that’s all fine and good, but there’s another person in the story with whom I resonate more readily (more so than the truly humble servant, unfortunately). That individual is Peter, Jesus’ personal spitfire know-it-all. (Ask my wife. She will tell you I’m a know-it-all as well. That’s probably why I can so easily identify with Peter.)
As Jesus is going around to the other disciples, Peter is flummoxed. In fact, when Jesus reaches out to wash Peter’s feet, Peter first asks Jesus what he’s doing, and then Peter flat out refuses to let Jesus wash his feet.
It’s understandable to me why Peter would refuse. After all, Peter believes that Jesus is the Messiah, the one who has come to rescue Israel from the clutches of the evil Roman Empire through violent, bloody warfare (for confirmation of this, just see what Peter does later that evening). Jesus is a king, not a foot-washer. In Peter’s mind, the two do not overlap in the slightest. Effectively, by refusing to let Jesus wash his feet, Peter tells Jesus who Jesus is allowed to be and what Jesus is allowed to do. Peter thinks he’s got Jesus all figured out, and he’s unwilling to let Jesus diverge from Peter’s understanding of him.
I imagine Jesus rolling his eyes at Peter and then saying, “Dude, shut up and take your shoes off.” Jesus didn’t actually say it that way, of course, especially since Peter probably already had his shoes off. What Jesus actually said (according to the New International Version) was, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” So, yes, it’s not exactly the same thing, but the idea is similar. Basically, Jesus wants Peter to let his conception of who Jesus is be shaped and remolded by Jesus himself.
Peter responds to Jesus by not only agreeing to let his feet be washed, but also by practically demanding that Jesus build him a holy Slip’n’Slide (my interpretation, no one else’s). This is somewhat rare for Peter. Usually when Jesus challenges Peter’s assumptions, it takes Peter awhile to understand and accept the truth that Jesus is trying to convey. But Peter does okay this time. Good job, bud.
A past version of me, however, would probably have had a harder time than Peter did. I’m not talking about this particular scene from the book of John, although I admit I would hate to have anyone try to wash my feet, even if it’s the Son of God. Rather, I’m talking about how that past version of me would have had a difficult time accepting a different understanding of Jesus than the one I held at the time.
Like I said earlier, I’m a bit of a know-it-all, and if I’m a know-it-all now, I was even more so in high school, college, and…well, up until about five seconds ago. I love to be right, and I hate being wrong so much that I’ve been known to fight dirty just for victory in a debate, even if I am obviously wrong. Like Peter, I don’t like to have my beliefs challenged because that means I might be wrong. Like Peter, I like to keep my shoes tied up real tight because I like to believe that I’ve got Jesus all figured out.
When I was in high school, I believed that Jesus may have been willing to die for sinners, but that he did it begrudgingly out of some sort of obligation. Or if not that, I believed that, while Jesus loves sinners in general, he couldn’t possibly love me in particular. And then I started to get an inkling that maybe Jesus really did love me for me, as me, and that he happily died for me because he legitimately wants to have a relationship with me.
But, like Peter, I argued. “No, Jesus. You’re too perfect to love a worm like me. Sure, you died to save sinners, but you couldn’t have possibly wanted to! And me? No, no, no. I’m too far gone, I’ve done too much. I don’t even deserve to be saved.”
Jesus just rolled his eyes and said, “Dude, shut up and take your shoes off.” And then I accepted God’s grace for the first time and gladly drown myself in it on a daily basis.
In college, I struggled to reconcile the Genesis account of creation with the fossil record. A professor introduced me to the concept of a literary framework reading of Genesis, wherein the reader approaches Genesis not as a history textbook, but as a document written to help a people group that had been enslaved for four centuries learn about who their God is. This view neither denies the existence of God and God’s role in creating the world, nor does it deny the scientific evidence for evolution and a universe that is billions of years old.
But I argued. “If I can’t trust the book of Genesis (or at least the creation story) to be historically accurate, how can I trust the Gospels to be accurate? What about Adam and Eve, then? Are you saying none of that happened? Isn’t this view just a little too convenient?”
And Jesus smiled knowingly and said, “Dude, shut up and take your shoes off.” And then I realized that, whether Adam and Eve were real people or whether they were a story used to explain our sinful nature, God can still be God, and Jesus can still be the savior of the world.
Thankfully, in the past year or so, I’ve embraced a “barefoot” approach to faith—meaning that I’m (learning to be) open to Jesus reshaping my understanding of who he is and what he does, allowing him to be both my Lord and my foot-washer. This requires me to admit that I’m wrong sometimes and that I don’t have everything figured out, just like Peter had to do when Jesus revealed that not only is he a king, but that he’s also a servant.
To some (including myself sometimes), this may sound scary and perhaps a bit dangerous. After all, who’s to say that I won’t go too far in my personal reformation of faith, to the point that I’m no longer following the real Jesus? I believe this could be a genuine concern, but I also believe that the nationalistic, homophobic, Republican-voting, legalistic, sinner-hating, young earth creationist, war-mongering Jesus I started out with isn’t the real Jesus either.
Barefoot faith doesn’t mean that I throw my brain out with my tennis shoes. I don’t simply believe everything I hear, and I do my best to listen to competing voices to maintain a balance. Also, I’ve made a point to learn from people who actually know what they’re talking about, not just any idiot with a podcast or a blog (heh, irony). Then, based upon the information I’ve consumed, I use my critical thinking skills (my pride and joy) to come to new conclusions—or, more accurately, a more realistic Jesus.
Through my barefoot faith, Jesus has helped me reexamine the Kingdom of God, pacifism, hell, America as a “Christian nation”, social justice, black lives matter, politics, feminism, the LGBT community, national enemies, the death penalty, power structures, poverty, atonement, doctrine, and, most shockingly, Hillary Clinton and Rob Bell.
I could go on listing things I think about differently than I used to and expound on all the things I believe now that I would have thought were heretical five years ago, but for your sake, I won’t. For some it might be shocking, while for others it might be disappointing. However, I do believe that I am not just shifting back and forth in my beliefs, but that I am actually chasing after the real Jesus.
The growth I’ve experienced in the past few years (most of which, interestingly, has taken place after graduating Bible college) has been substantial and thrilling. My faith has never been stronger, and my excitement about the Kingdom of God has never been greater. And all I had to do was shut up and take my shoes off.