Loving the calluses, the warts, and the dirt


“Washing of the Feet” by John August Swanson

A sermon on John 13: 1 – 35

Reading this passage from the gospel of John, I am left with an overwhelming feeling of calming, tender love.

Jesus knows he is going to die soon. The hour has come. Later, there will be bargaining, there will be tears and there will be pain. But in this moment, with his closest friends, there is only love.

This passage is flush with love. It is overflowing with love, which is only fitting as Jesus overflowed, overflows, is overflowing with love. Tender, warm love.

In the first verse: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” This statement is right before the statement that Judas was going to betray Jesus, but it doesn’t say, “and so Jesus didn’t love him.” That qualifier isn’t there. There is only love. Even for the one who would bring about his death, there is only love.

I wonder how Jesus can be so calm, so focused on those around him, so in the moment. Then I read, “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God…” He knew. He didn’t think, he didn’t suspect, he didn’t have an inkling. He knew intimately, deeply, tenderly that he had come from God and was going to God, that the salvation of all of us, of his friends, his family, you and of me depended on him.

He knew that he had come from God and was going to God.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Know that God is God. Know that you come from God and you will return from God. Suspend disbelief. Suspend doubt. Know that you come from God and you will return to God. Breathe it in. Breathe in the love of God.

While you are breathing, think about a part of you that is broken, that is worn, that is tired. Think about a part of you that might smell funny, that is dirty – a part of you that you think is ugly. Think about a part of you that is sorely neglected, but does a lot of work for you. Now think of that part of you being cradled in love, caressed by compassion, cleansed of its dirt and smell. Think of your brokenness being touched, being loved.

Breathe in the love of God. Breathe out your pain, your isolation, your brokenness. Let it go. Give it to God.

This is what Jesus did for his disciples. He touched their dirtiest parts and made them clean. He touched their rough edges, their wounds, their calluses. This is what Jesus does for us – he touches the places that we are embarrassed to show, the things we want to keep hidden and loves them. This is what Jesus asks us to do for one another. This is the example Jesus left for us, it was a part of his last will and testament, a new commandment.

Love one another, just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

If we ever wonder what this kind of love means, what this kind of love looks like in action, it looks like the washing of feet. Not only the pretty, well manicured feet, but the mangled feet, the stinky feet, the molding feet. Dancers feet. Fungal feet. Feet that are decaying because they are regularly trapped in waterlogged socks. Not the scrubbing of these feet, but the gentle washing of the feet.  A loving of the feet. Of those feet. The love we are asked to give to one another is the kind of love that is willing to accept our neighbors ugliest parts, the kind of love that is active, physical, that involves movement and tenderness and makes the other – your neighbor, friend, or enemy – feel clean, feel accepted and feel cherished. Tenderly. Without reservation, without pulling back, without recoil or aversion. Because this is how God loves us. This is how Jesus touches us. This is how the Holy Spirit moves us.

So in the name of Jesus Christ, the one who died so that we might have life, show the world that we are his disciples.

Love one another.

Love one another.

Love one another,

as he loved his disciples

as he loves us.


About Elizabeth Rawlings

Lutheran. Feminist. Child of God. Thinking about how to be a leader in a church that is trying to rediscover itself and what it means to live simply so that others may simply live in tandem with what exactly is the fast God asks of us. Chronic alliterator. Generally silly person. View all posts by Elizabeth Rawlings

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