Washing Hands, Washing Feet

by Judi Chow

It has been awhile since the SARS outbreak and hand washing has become a ritual as well as a necessity for health reasons. I enjoy washing my hands and seeing how clean they get especially when I have been out in the streets of Hong Kong. I never thought too much of washing my hands because it is like brushing my teeth. It is something you do everyday; it is a habit… until this Easter. It happened on Good Friday when I was just simply washing my hands. As the water ran through my fingers and the suds formed on my palms, I thought of a man who washed his hands… in public.

Pontius Pilate made a choice yet didn’t want to bear the responsibility of it by publicly washing his hands. This symbolic act might have eased his guilt, but deep down he knew he had condemned an innocent man. No amount of water or soap could clean his conscience. What drove him to make that choice? What went through his mind? What was more important to him at that point? He was just doing his job, keeping the peace, preventing an uproar, satisfying the crowd. The situation was beyond his control. We all know too well how to come up with reasonable excuses for our actions. It is easy to point the finger and say the devil made me do it. Deep down, we know the truth; no amount of excuses can cover up the truth. Ironically, that was precisely the question Pilate asked, What is truth? Three times he had appealed to the crowd wanting to release Jesus, yet finally he chose the act of washing his hands.

As I continued to rub my hands and allowed the water to rinse away the dirt along with the suds, another image surfaced. Clean hands touching dirty feet. A basin of water on the floor, a towel on the waist, and the clean hands of Jesus washing and drying the disciples’ dirty feet. This act was more than symbolic. It was a chore no one wanted, a dirty job for the servants. Jesus, the teacher, the Son of God, the Prince of peace took on the role of a servant, acted in humility and love. As He knelt before each of His disciples, taking hold of their feet, one after another gently, orderly, thoroughly, touching, washing, and wiping them clean. The disciples were puzzled, stunned, or like Peter, tried to refuse this act of washing. How can our respected, authoritative teacher wash our feet? Jesus knew exactly what He was doing. Yes, their feet were dirty and needed washing, but He was trying to set an example for the disciples to follow in serving one another. His time was almost up, and He knew they all wanted to be leaders. He had to train His followers how to be proper Godly leaders with a servant’s attitude. Jesus chose the act of washing their feet.

Both images in my mind were acts of washing, yet the meaning behind each was so different. One is so selfish and the other so selfless! Pilate washing his own hands and Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. Water can only wash the outside clean for a short period of time, yet the blood of Jesus can clean the inside forever. Finally I turned off the water, and wiped my hands dry. I look at the palms of my hands and they looked clean. A smile of satisfaction and gratefulness came across my face. With open hands I say, thank you Lord, I am clean!

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