The evening sun was low in the sky as the men finished their meal, dipping bread into the oil after breaking it. They sat in a spacious room upstairs, set in the middle of the city, and after a long day, they could finally rest here together. A cool breeze blew in from the back of the room and danced in front of the dimly lit stars. The sounds of the market drifted in from the street below–voices rose to meet the humming of their steady conversation at the long, sturdy table. All was right in the world because he was with them.
But he was wrestling with dark thoughts and his mind was far away. He could feel that his heart was full–he couldn’t have loved more the friends he had in this room, and he had done all that he had set out to do. But there was that darkness, once again, that cast a shadow over the light of love–a tantalizing voice that seemed to creep in and steal what was pure. There were so few hours left to spend with them, and his heart ached.
He stood up from the table slowly and all eyes followed him, their hushed tones fading away into silence. The men chewed their food quietly and their gazes remained on him as he walked around the room. He removed some of his clothes and left them in a pile by the door, wrapping a towel around his lower body. A few of the men shook their heads in disbelief; then he poured water into a bowl.
He approached each man, one by one, taking their tired and calloused feet into his hands and gently lowering them into the clean water. Dumbfounded and exchanging glances, they relented and reluctantly allowed him to wash them. Their faces flushed with hot shame: he was the esteemed one, the great teacher who spoke with unparalleled wisdom and clarity. Surely a servant should stoop to clean the filth off their soles and not this man whose future showed so much promise, who may become the great King they’ve waited for all this time. But they had come to know that his ways were something they’d never experienced before; nothing had been the same since he came into their lives. He often made them uncomfortable, challenging everything they’d ever known to be true. He moved on again, attentively removing the dust and ash from each man’s aching feet.
He felt the sting of emotion behind his eyes as he moved onto the next man at the table. He scanned his face for a moment, looking for a hint of mourning in his eyes. He placed a hand on one of his ankles, slowly guiding it into the water as he poured the cool liquid from the basin onto his dry, cracked heels. His heart beat hard as he moved his hands along the surface of the water. He loved him like a brother, but he knew his heart. All of the days spent together, walking under the hot sun, serving people and speaking to the crowds. The bread broken, wine poured, and wounds healed. It all led up to this moment, and his heart was heavy with grief. Why do they fall for schemes of the liar and settle for so much less? he thought. Because he knew that all were loyal to him but one man: the man who sat in front of him, his heart stolen by power and greed. But before time began, his betrayal was etched into the story of the world.
He sighed. Using the towel around his waist, he dried the man’s feet and looked away. Though it was almost the end of his time here, it was only the beginning. There was so much more to be done.
“You’re not going to touch my feet,” one of the men said suddenly. He was stubborn, and had a lot to learn. He couldn’t see the significance in this moment now, but soon it would mean everything to him.
“I’m going to wash your feet, just like you should wash each other’s feet,” he said. “No one is better than anyone else,” he added with conviction, finishing and removing the damp towel from his body to place on a small table by the door. This was at the heart of everything he had shown them, but they were like children with so much to learn. Once he was gone, they would keep gaining wisdom, though with a longing in their hearts.
He replaced the bowl of water, put his robes back on, and returned to his place at the table. The night was upon them completely now, and the mood of the room had changed–the men quietly considered what he had done and what he’d said; every word he spoke was like new breath. He had shown them love and spoken love, and soon love would pour from his body and soak the earth. One man shifted in his chair; he wiped the sweat from his brow and looked toward the door.