I’m bedeviled by dust in this season of Lent.
It began on Ash Wednesday, with a cross of dust traced on my forehead. It continued in a lament on Dust-Keeping, where I pondered the resilience of dust and how difficult its complete removal can be. And now its dusty feet and another dusty cross. Is this circle of dust now complete?
The cross where Christ was crucified was a dusty wood surface. He got there by making enemies of men in high places. He only spoke truth, but sometimes the truth is hard to hear, especially for a spade who is called a spade. And while he’d made a few friends too – what he graciously called disciples –some deserted because his teachings were too hard, some followed with little understanding, and one understood all too well. The disciple of this third kind betrayed Jesus to the king of spades.
The Gospel of John tells a story about that night he was betrayed, when Jesus removed his outer garment and wrapped a towel around his waist and on bended knee, and with a basin of water, washed the dust from his disciple’s feet. He treated his betrayer no different.
Only Peter wished for different treatment. This disciple known to speak without thinking—with flashes of brilliance and dashes of denial—outright refused the gift Jesus was offering. But when he heard that a ‘no’ to foot washing was a ‘no’ to Jesus, he shifted past reverse and offered his entire body for washing. In all ways, Peter wished to remain in control, whether it be feast or famine.
This disciple who’d won the key to the city for confessing Jesus as the Christ was about to learn a new lesson. He was not in control of this or any other gift Jesus wished to offer. Like everyone, Peter would be given a choice: He could accept the offered gift without conditions–or he could reject it. Peter humbly accepted. I imagine Peter crying uncontrollably as Jesus washed his dusty feet. Because Peter saw he was no better or worse than the eleven who preceded him; Jesus washed away all their dust in the same identical way. He gave each the same gift without regard to merit. Some may have had more dust, while others less. But they all ended up with clean feet. Jesus met each where they were, just as they were.
When Jesus said he would build his church on Peter’s confession, he was thinking more about foot washings than building funds or church committees. He envisioned a church built on the undying rock of humble love, with the kind of people who would swallow their pride and allow others to wash their dusty feet. Like Peter, for instance.
As for the dust buried in deep places like the heart, Jesus prayed folks would simply trust him to make the impossible possible. Like fairy dust, the gift of Christ crucified on the cross defies rational explanation, though many have developed doctrines in an attempt to do so.
For me, it’s easier to understand the mysterious work of Jesus and the cross through the signpost of a simple foot washing. I begin with one and end up at the other, and it doesn’t matter whether I begin with dusty feet or a dusty cross. I bet those first disciples saw this too, with the hindsight offered by dusty feet nailed to a dusty cross.