Monday, June 9, 2014

Racism/Racist: What it is and is not and why its Usage is Rarely Warranted but Often Employed

It doesn’t take much to be called a racist these days. Every wonder how we got there? Even among Christians, who should be demonstratively considerate with regard to this matter, you will find the indiscriminate and deliberately hostile use of this descriptor in places it does not belong. Race has become big business once again. However, this time the business a far more evil one and surreptitious one than anything compared to what some considered the objectionable practice of social segregation and slavery in the past. 

The word racism, at one time in our history, had a real and denoted meaning. In fact, it had a deliberate meaning because behind the word was a genuine construct of thought which had a very specific view and a boundary which limited that view to a certain main concept. Today, if you ask people what racism or a racist is, they will usually give you many anecdotal references such as using a racial/ethnic smear, excluding a group based on their race/ethnicity from another group or simply existing as a predominant group in nation, state city, town or neighborhood where the by-products of a racial/ethnic group are contexts in which racial/ethnic minorities must co-exist.

This is the ideology of the day. And it is in error. None of the above represents the meaning of racism. Again, racism has a real and intended meaning. And we will get to that very quickly but first let me explain why things have gotten so unclear.

Expand the Meaning, Expand the Excommunication

The commercial on the radio used to say, “Words have meaning”. Whatever the meaning is, determines the consequences of its application. For example, take the word “fingernail”. We understand it to mean the layer of stratified epidermal cells which grow out from our vascular matrix of dermis on the end of our fingers or, in laymen’s terms, the clear hard things on top of the end of our fingers.
However, if we expand the meaning fingernail to include any epidermal stratification, we can now include calluses as that which fingernail may reference. Now you have many more fingernails.

Does this sound silly? It should. While it might be a somewhat benign alternation there are other words, when expanded in their definition, which could damage good ideas, good remedies, proper framing of things and ultimately, people. In essence, what we are concerned about here is a principle of integrity and truth with regard to a word that is being uses in large volume today.

What is a genius? Thus, let’s take another word and expand its meaning to discover what kind of damage can be done when a word meaning is enlarged. This time we will use the word, genius. To be classified as a genius, one must demonstrate that they have exceptional intelligence and/or gifting. 

Intellectually it is commonly accepted that one must demonstrate an IQ. of 140 or higher (some claim 125 but Mensa requires 140 so I am going with the mainstream genius organization for the sake of argument). On the creative or talent end, there is no numerical scale, rather there is a peer scale which means what they do or create in their artistic expression exceeds that of the majority in creativity/talent as viewed by their peers. Consequently, this places them in the exceptional category. 

However, for the sake of argument let’s stay only with intellectual geniuses to make this point because what we are dealing with in regard to race is something that can be measured much like IQ. genius and not so much, artistic genius. 

If you expand the meaning of genius to include someone who might show brightness on occasion or grow the boundaries by including those with an IQ. of 115 or higher, we now begin to make the exceptionalism of genius, not so exceptional. 

The question which follows is, “Why would anyone wish to change the established and real meaning of genius by broadening it to include those who are not geniuses even though they may be more intelligent than the average person?” 

The answer to that is either to damage the body of exceptional intellectuals who are real geniuses or to give the status of genius to those who are not really geniuses so that they may share in the benefits of such a positive classification, though undeservedly so. 

When Words Lose their Value

What you just observed is the use of words as a means to empower someone with something they should not have or dispossess a person of a rightful property. Rarely are word alterations the result of altruistic and benign campaigns toward clarity. Normally, in this day and age they are agenda driven.

However, I do not say this is an absolute manner, of course, because the legitimate change of word meanings are still done so but in a manner where they broadly do not empower or dispossess, rather they accommodate newly discovered facts. The two approaches are starkly different in both motive and consequence.

The climatic point, here, is that words often lose their value when their genuine meaning is changed for a person or group to be able to dispossess or empower others without validity. Words can become so expanded that everyone becomes anything and anything is everything. This goes on in the academic world as well as in our simple social settings, sometimes through the repeated careless use of words which are not truly reflective of a matter but habitually are used to the point their meaning changes or with deliberation and purpose, ultimately to effect some kind of change and consequence. Now and then, however aside from these, words do have their meanings changed for factual and valid reasons.

The first two above is a child’s way of thinking and not that of the considerate and judicious mind. The benevolent mind eschews vagueness and obfuscation and instead, prefers clarity, precision and astute accuracy in the classification and codification of life. Each word, while at times possessing connoted meaning has as their real property, a strongly denoted meaning intended for a certain context. To the informed mind, those things which may be similar or related to the real thing, still are not the real thing. Such distinctions come from the minds of nuance and efficiency which have given us a great languages, great societies, and great cultures along with and a great body of knowledge upon which sophisticated and advanced societies have been built.

Words as Weapons

Along the way, as we grow up into adults, we learn that words have power and can be used as weapons. While children use words to heap scorn upon their peers or to taunt them until the object of their puerile envy breaks, adults exceed the clumsy use of words among children by unmeasurable miles when it comes to words being employed as weapons. Say what you will about children hurting others with words but they simply pale in comparison to much of our more ripened world.

And brings me to racism, its definition and its unwarranted application in so many places. As well, it forces me to look at Christian ignorance and naïve acquiescence to the malicious employment of the word by by the untrustworthy world and the subsequent consideration of quantitative vs. qualitative differences between races, ethnicities and cultures.

It is a difficult topic for many people seeing that they have been so conditioned by the world around them to accept the modern, expanded meaning, of racism/racist. But in a moment I wish to emancipate your thinking and graduate it into a more critical and objective, if not mature and codified, way of understanding what racism is and is not and the distinction between quantitative and qualitative values of races, ethnicities and cultures.


(Not for the faint of heart). You called me a cracker and I called you are nigger. Are we racist? He called her slant eyes and she called him wetback, are they racist? Is what was said, racist or racism? I won’t answer this yet other than to say one thing is clear, such words are mean to hurt but whether or not they are racist or something else, I will determine (and hopefully you, as well) after I am finished.
The origins of racism are not like the discovery of a something new where a time stamp and history can be directly traced. Racism has to do with our genetics and its expression. The word, itself, has not be around as long as the practice itself but our genetics have been here from the beginning.

However, its progenetive forms are not so as important as our modern context because at some point in modern history, racism, as a word, arose and had a working definition with real consequences. And with regard to this, we can safely look to the rise of eugenics in the nineteenth century as the early formation of genuine racism.

Eugenics is/was the attempt to remove undesirable traits from human biology through selective reproduction. The most notable eugenics pioneer was Francis Galton who coined the term, eugenics. And while there are some negative properties of eugenics which, even then, were objected to, there were also positive aspects which are still applied today. Thus, the word, itself, was applied in many ways, both negatively and positively.


One outcome of this field of study (which was contemporaneous with Darwin’s theory of evolution and species survival) was the view that some human beings were less human than others and specifically, the black man. Much of this was deduced rationally from a qualitative standpoint and not by any DNA measure, a field of biological certitude to which science would not advance for a while.

Thus, the determinations by both eugenicists and sociologists (along with the rest of popular opinion) regarding who is more human than the other, were concluded too early. While the theory was on their side with regard to qualitative observations, the quantitative measures of who was more human than the other, which could only be found in DNA, were yet to be provided as support. Of course, as we now know, those claiming blacks or other non-whites were the least “evolved” hence, less quantitatively human, were proven wrong.

Racism’s Modern Historical View

As a result of these pronouncements, it became the consensus of many societies that racial superiority with regard to one group being more human or more greatly biologically advanced than the other, was quite reasonable. Thus, to be a racist was to be reasonable. Even Abraham Lincoln, while emancipating the black slaves, viewed blacks as less human though still regarded by God as a man.

Therefore, a racist was simply a person who viewed other races as factually being less human or “evolved” than others and the superior human generally that of the white. In other words, others races were biologically less human. In their view, whatever was present in the biology of the others was inferior in quantity, than other groups and certainly whites. 

I stress the word quantitatively here because it will come into play, later. You must understand the difference between quantitative and qualitative differences and how the meaning of racism is genuinely defined or falsified by expanding it to include others who might speak in a racial context but not be guilty of racism but certainly are forced to live with its consequences as a label unjustly heaped upon them by others.

DNA’s Surprise

With the advancement of biological/DNA studies, particularly the molecular structure of DNA, (which started much earlier than Crick and Watson’s eventually find but accelerated during this period) it has been concluded through scientific fact that the view  of quantitative humanity, (that one or more races possess less human biology) was scientifically wrong.

Now, this is not to say the DNA case is rested with regard to possible unique properties in racial/ethnic groups but it is to say that the idea that one group is quantitatively less human than another is scientifically wrong.

Social Policies and the Realities of DNA

With science no longer on the side of those who viewed various racial/ethnic groups as being less human than others, social policies based on such assumptions were challenged and eventually reversed in many countries, most notably the United States.

The idea that all men and women were equally and fully human was not only scientifically established but as well, the consequences of this science resulted in changed social policy. And, as most can observe, a great majority of society embraces the science behind all humans being quantitatively equally human.

The Stigma of Racism and the New Game in Town

Once science disproved the ideology of quantifying who was more human than the other and social policy changed, those who resisted such changes were now on the other end of the spectrum; instead of being viewed as reasonable they were viewed as unreasonable and hostile to the facts of science. This could only result in a person being stigmatized as deliberately ignorant and a threat to reasonable society.

Of course not all men and women who had racial/ethnic prejudices did so based on the view that some people were more human than others. Many of them accepted the science and were not at all racists as is rightly defined. Rather, these men and women had another reason for their desire of segregation and other social separations which are debatable but certainly not a matter of anyone holding to racism.

Qualitative Differences – Collective Racial/Ethnic/Cultural Favors and Disfavors

As noted above, genuine racism is the view that one racial group (possibly ethnic) is quantitatively less human than another. I know of no one who holds to this view, not even the most racially minded segregationist. The fact is, racism as how it is properly defined, is all but dead.

What we do have today, however, is what one might call racialism or simply put, racial matters. That is to say, society collectively and individually, still view people groups with regard to race/ethnicity. However, their measure as a group is not with respect to biology but with respect to their culture and social product. That is to say, they are measured by the quality of person or group they are today.

Quality Measurements vs. Quantity Measurements. Hair is hair but not all hair has the same qualities. Humans are humans but not all humans share the same qualities.

To measure the quality of something is not to measure its value as the thing itself. That is to say, if we measure snails, one next to the other we begin knowing that one is no less a snail than the other. However, those two snails are not identical with respect to quality. One may be larger, one may have a superior shell and one may possesses inferior or superior properties which cause it to die young or live longer.

We have quit measuring humans with respect to quantity, all humans are all human. None is more human than the other. However, with respect to qualitative differences, this occurs every day.  We award achievement based on the quality of academic performance. We recognize those who are charitable as a qualitative property and the list goes on and on. And such individuals usually belong to a group or are related to a group and that group expresses itself, whether deliberately by design or passively by consequence.

Collective Expressions by Groups. What is meant by “collective expression”? The term refers to the activities of all the individuals of a particularly group who share a strong common denominator, added up together, to form a group profile from the collection of individuals of that group.

Families are a good place for such an example. Take a family with strong Italian genetics. You will find a biological profile which is quite distinct from, say, a Japanese family who will, in turn, have a collective profile themselves. These are called inherited traits.

You will not only find biologically inherited traits but as well, you will observe behavioral traits which are biologically based in part and socially based by reinforcement, in part. Ultimately, you will find common biological properties and behavioral properties among those with a strong shared common denominator. And in this case we are referring to the strongest kind of common denominator which goes a long way in contributing toward a person’s manifestation, namely genetics. The result of this is culture.

Culture informs us of the collective values, aptitude, tendencies (both altruistic and malevolent) skills, interests, and capacities of a group of people. And when it comes to those who are bound by genetics, it tells us even more concretely where they are likely headed in the future. As a result we may have fair and just frames of references with regard to a person while holding in our minds the fact that such a person is not exclusively bound to their group and may be an exception to their average and give reasonable opportunity for such exceptions.

However, it also informs us that exceptions are just that, exceptions and to anticipate the norm is not racism but reason and good science.

All of this goes a long way in providing a judicious explanation of why people view others the way they do and respond to them as they do. It is a reality of life. People collect things in their minds, they form a collective profile and with regard to race, ethnicity and culture, I am sorry my overly sensitive political correctness devotee, these realities are not going away not to mention the fact that it is likely you have such formulas yourself and apply them with vigor only you justify yours or modify them when people are looking.


I have strayed from my original point a bit but maybe not so much. However, I want to conclude here. The real meaning of racism, the view that someone or some racial group is quantitatively less human than another is gone from the social consciousness of most of the world. The word, “racist” and “racism” are being used in contexts that are, repeatedly, not called for, but there is a reason for this.

When racism, as it is properly understood, was found to be in error, there was real value in identifying those who rejected sound science and labeling them a racist. They were rightly viewed as unreasonable and a threat to fair and established ideas. In other words, the label had social, if not vocational, consequences.

However, when the meaning of the word was deliberately expanded to mean anyone making any racial/ethnic comment that might be uncharitable to its recipient, the consequences came with this new definition. Instantly we have made people into racists who are not merely for unpleasant racial comments or certain prejudices. But hey, who cares, as long as we can stigmatize our opponent, right. In other words, “racist” and “racism” are, in reality, social weapons since their real meaning has been so diluted and conflated that now just about anyone who wishes may punish another simply without qualification by using the racism bomb.

Why the word racism/racist does not apply to qualitative racial/ethnic distinctions. Some might object to my conclusion that the word racism and racist should not be used with regard to qualitative measures among races because the measure is still based in race. To that I would say because the consequences of being classified as racist or being guilty of racism brings with it the same measure of contempt that a true racist receives because he or she rejects repeatedly proven biological studies showing the same amount of humanity in the DNA of the races, then it is by categorical demand that such terms not be used for the former as is the case for the latter.

Those who might observe the manifest of a people and culture and decide upon those realities that certain personal or social policies may be expedient for the existence of that group aside, among or distance from another are not denying any facts nor claiming any inherent value but instead are dealing with real qualitative values and conditions. That is not racism, that is another thing based in truth or at least objectivity.

My Earlier Question. So, with all that said, I will answer my earlier question. Are racially based slurs, actual racism or racist? I say no. They may be rude, vulgar and inconsiderate and certainly based in a racial context, hence, they might be called racial but it isn’t genuine racism and no real measure of actual racism.

But if these things to bother you, and maybe they should, sometimes they bother me in the right context, imagine lesser offenses being labeled as racism. It is to the point that the nuclear option is the only option at every racial offense which demonstrates my entire point. The word has no real value or meaning anymore and is used generally only to harm innocent people or at least people who do not warrant its label.

The “ism” and “ist” factory is a weapons factory more than it is a truth factory in our world today. If you are a Christian you need to be more considerate regarding this matter. There are qualitative differences between the collective expressions of racial and ethnic groups. This is a reality that will not go away no matter how much you, as a Christian, believe you can crusade around with “racism” and “racist” bombs in the name of God who you imagine is on your side.

In the church there is a difference because race and ethnicity are null and void. We are a spiritual species and our DNA is Christ. Ironically, those in the church clamoring the most about race, these days, are the ones trying to bring this social construct and theological construct into the church while lamenting social emphasis on the matter. But that topic alone is for another day, I have written on it somewhat thoroughly already.

That aside however, outside of the church, in society, there are realities or race and ethnicity that cannot be calmed or resolved with aggressive stigmatization tactics because someone has hurt your feelings with a name or has observed one or more negatives of the collective of a certain racial/ethnic group.

We must be fair, just and considerate about how we attach labels to people in such matters. Lives are injured, people discredited and  everyone is suspect. Christian dystopianism. UGH.

Friday, April 18, 2014

John 13: 1-20 - The Real Meaning of Jesus’ Foot Washing

Most people are familiar with the concept of foot washing and that it comes from the Bible. It is viewed by many to be an act of humility and service which was modeled by our Savior, Jesus, and is to be performed by believers on the basis of Jesus instructing his disciples that they, too, ought to do this. Thus, during seasons such as Easter and particularly Maunday Thursday, many Christians via their church or denomination, engage in a foot washing ritual (some as an ordinance and others as simply honoring the event) believing they are carrying out this instruction. It seems simple enough but in truth, they have missed the entire point our Lord was making. Before I elaborate I want to post the portion of John’s gospel account in which this is given to us:

John 13:1-20 (ESV)

13 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. 18 I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ 19 I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”

There are three schools of thought regarding this event:
  • This passage is to be understood in its most literal sense that believers are to perform the ritual of foot washing in order to obey Jesus' instruction to do as he has done.
  • This passage is to be understood in both in its literal sense and in an expanded sense which may involve any type of humble service to our brothers and sisters, or even to a stranger to the family of God.
  • This passage is to be understood analogically. It is, in reality, a reference to a spiritual act, not a physical one. Further, it does not intend to include with this view any act of humility. Rather this is a specific action which is the act of forgiving others.
Clearly, those who understand the context and lesson likely do not need to read any further other than to add to their understanding, if indeed, I can do so for them. But to those who have are unsure, I hope to be a source of illumination here. Thus, instead of mainly arguing against what I believe to be errant views, I will argue for what I believe to be the correct view, thus eliminating the errant views by way of proving the proper view. And that view is that this is a lesson about forgiveness.

Key Pieces of the Puzzle

The passage of John’s account of the washing of the feet by our Savior during the Jewish festival of Passover, has some pivotal moments which must maintain harmony with any proposed overall interpretation. From my perspective they are:
  • John 13:8 – Peter refusing to have Jesus wash his feet in which Jesus informs Peter that unless Peter acquiesces to Jesus’ washing his feet, Peter will have "no share" with Jesus - in other words, Peter will no longer share in the ministry of Jesus.
  • John 13:6 – Jesus telling Peter that at this moment he does not understand what Jesus is doing but later, he will.
  • John 13:8-11 – Peter yielding to Jesus but still misunderstanding the lesson in asking to be washed all over his body. From this, the Savior tells Peter he does not need washed all over, he is already clean or has been washed clean and the only thing Peter needs is his feet washed.
  • John 13:10-11 – Jesus identifying that someone had not been washed all over, hence, was not cleaned (his betrayer, Judas).
  • John 13:12-16 – Jesus commands that because he, their Master or Teacher, has done this, they must do likewise seeing that the student is not above his Master.
Foot Washing

Foot washing was necessary in ancient civilizations because most footwear was unlike today’s modern shoes which substantially cover the entire foot, not to mention the accompaniment of socks of various kinds which practically eliminate dirt on the feet for most activities. The most common footwear in these civilizations was a sandal which exposed the foot to dirt and of course this resulted in dirty feet (there were foot coverings which extensively covered the foot but they are not worn very often by the common populace). 

Dirty feet were an expected part of daily life and were not looked down upon unless one was be received into a person’s home. Normally, before entering one would take their outer robe off and shake it to remove dirt. Then, upon entering either the courtyard or right at the entrance, there was a washbowl for the guests to wash themselves. As a sign of great respect to the guest, sometimes the host would offer to wash the feet of his guest. This gesture carried with it the signal that their guest was of greater value than the host.

Jesus, the Foot Washer

When our Lord began washing the feet of the disciples, he was not introducing anything new. What he was doing, however, was using a cultural custom to make a point. Jesus knew he was the Master and Peter, though misunderstanding the doctrine or lesson, recognized Jesus as the Messiah, thus, Peter believed he could not permit Jesus to be placed in a subordinate position, particularly one which indicated the guest (Peter) was greater than Jesus. But as I noted, Peter missed the lesson being taught, thus he responded wrongly due to his failure to understand what this meant.

The Five Critical Clues

So now let’s move to the five points which will demonstrate that this event is not a ritualistic ordinance nor a general appeal to humble service of any kind, rather it is a doctrinal lesson regarding our requirement to forgive or wash others from any sins thereby, enabling genuine community between individuals and the body of Christ as a whole.

Peter’s Refusal and Jesus’ Response – In Peter’s mistaken attempt to preserve the dignity and public superiority of Christ, he refuses to permit Christ to wash his feet which would have esteemed Peter as greater. Jesus rebukes him somewhat and tells him that if he does not permit this, he will not share in our Lord’s ministry.

What should be apparent is that it is not a refusal by Peter to wash another’s feet, rather to permit his feet to be washed which will deny Peter partnership with Christ in his ministry. Why? Because Peter, in this case, is denying what our Lord is teaching. Peter wishes to write the rules and deny Christ his prerogative based on Peter’s humanistic understanding of the matter. Thus, for Peter to deny what Christ is teaching here is to depart from fellowship with Christ.

Peter, You Will Understand Later – Our Lord recognizes that Peter is confused in failing to understand what is going on as he washes Peter’s feet. There is something demonstrative here to those who claim this is simply Jesus trying or establish an ordinance of humility and not something else. Peter understood the matter of foot washing and proves that by trying to stop Jesus from placing Peter as a preferred and superior person. If all Jesus is trying to do is establish an ordinance, then he understood Peter got that, but that wasn't the intention of Christ.

To be told, you will understand later, means that there is something going on other than the obvious which some assert was Jesus simply establishing a ritual ordinance of humble acts. Peter got the obvious but that was wrong.

Peter’s Second Misunderstanding,he and the other Disciples are already washed or clean – In getting the point that he must yield to Jesus’ washing or else, Peter then zealously, still missing the lesson, demands to have his whole body washed. But because this is not about body washing or even foot washing, our Savior explains to Peter that he has already been washed whole, he is already clean and that the only thing he needs washed are his feet.

That’s odd. How can one be washed whole yet still need their feet washed? That seems contradictory but it is not, if you understand what the Lord is trying to illustrate.

The washing whole already refers to Peter’s salvation. When we believe the gospel, were are washed clean of our sins and regenerated (Titus 3:5). However, when we enter into constant or intimate commune, though we have been washed all over, we are just like the guest who has been out in the world, getting his or her feet dirty. When they enter into someone’s home and certainly before they eat or have close commune, they have dirt on their feet which must be cleasned.

This washing of the feet represents the forgiveness of sins we commit as we live our daily lives (1 John 1:9). In 1 John, we, believers, are instructed, “If we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness”. This does not refer to being washed all over so that we may be justified, rather, it refers to being washed or forgiven for ongoing commune with God.

Think for a moment. When someone is permitted to enter another’s house, they must have been determined by the host to be justly entering. This justification does not include what is necessary once they have entered the house to now begin commune or intimacy. It might involve taking off your hat, coat or shoes.

This is the same principle of having our feet washed. We already are washed clear or justified, now we must insure we are qualified for intimacy or fellowship. And with this, we need our feet cleansed.

Jesus Distinguishes Between those who have been cleansed all over and the one who had not, Judas – I do not know if Judas had taken a bath that day or not but I seriously doubt Jesus was indicating whether or not he had when he pointed out to Peter that there was one who had not been wholly cleansed, namely his betrayer. This explanation by our Lord, only revealing the unwashed one by what he would do, is harmonious with his telling Peter that he would later understand what the washing was all about.

Our Lord expects Peter and the other disciples to be preoccupied with this inexplicable lesson, a mystery at the moment, which will later be clear to them. After all, Jesus did make clear that one of them in their presence would betray the Savior. This, no doubt, was something they would contemplate and look for and when it occurred trigger greater enlightenment regarding the meaning of the foot washing event.

Forgive as I have Forgiven - Remember what Jesus instructed the disciples to do? He said to do the same thing as he was doing. What was he doing? He was not washing their body whole, that had already been done, rather to wash the feet of others, i.e., forgive others their sins.

In other words, the only way you are going to be able to have commune or what is commonly called fellowship, is to forgive others.

As we consider the literal washing of one another’s feet and/or some other kind of act of humble service as interpretations of this part of Scripture, both pale in comparison to the real lesson and command of Christ here, to forgiven one another’s sins. In the literal washing of another’s feet or humble acts, we are free to choose when, where and how. Not that it should not be done if someone with dirty feet actually enters your home and needs their feet washed, it would be a kind and humble gesture, indeed. But so would having a water and towel out for them to do it themselves. As well, choosing to perform acts of humility are not a lack of virtue, but still this is not the lesson here and again, we get to make the choice of those conditions, often.

But forgiving someone requires you to pay their debt through bearing it yourself. You do not get to choose when you will forgive, rather, when a brother or sister or even someone outside of God’s estate comes to you to have their feet cleansed, you aren’t the one esteemed, rather you are their savior with respect to permitting or re-establishing intimacy or commune. They bring nothing to you, rather you give to them. And such forgiveness does not include demanding payment for their misdeed(s), rather you bearing that cost in your soul. Your grasp on contempt for them is released and you humbling yourself and being like your Master is what occurs.


I would rather tailor what acts of humility I will perform than forgive others at times. One still includes a certain rescue for me that I do not have to bear someone else’s offenses against me and the opportunity to hold onto grudges and self-righteous contempt.

I do not believe that either the literal reading with the subsequent attempt to establish it as an ordinance or the generalization that this is merely a lesson in humble and righteous acts can withstand the demand of textual or theological harmony. Both fail to explain the use of the washing analogies which were not treated literally, rather figuratively. They also do not include the attachment or correlation to Judas’ being described as unwashed or the explanation by Jesus to Peter that he does not need his body washed because it was already cleaned. After all, if you are going to go all out in establishing a humble example, why stop with the feet?

Forgiving one another is how we maintain our ability in the body of Christ to fellowship or commune and as well, how we are able to maintain our ambassadorship in this foreign world against whom we are not at war, rather who are at war with us. There are so many pardons we must grant at the offenses toward us to both be good fellow citizens and ambassadors of Christ to the world that no doubt, they are somewhat immeasurable. Regardless, to refuse to do so is to refuse to share in the work of Christ.

Thank you Lord for your gospel of forgiveness. Help us to do likewise.