I’m sure a lot of you are familiar with the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. Personally, I think I have heard that story at least 23 times. That is, at least once every year of my life on Maundy Thursday.
This Maundy Thursday, however, was a little different. The first difference is pretty obvious - I was living in Soweto, South Africa. Second, Moruti decided to focus on a part of the story that I had never really considered before. He talked a lot about Simon Peter and his reluctance to have Jesus wash his feet.
I often feel like I could relate to Simon Peter. I mean, my feet smell sometimes – Jesus probably wouldn’t want to touch that.
On a more serious note, though, I also struggle with accepting help at times. When I think about this part of the story, I imagine this going through Simon Peter’s mind: “Oh no, he doesn’t need to wash my feet. I can do that myself. Actually, I have plans to do so as soon as I get home. Oh Jesus, always trying to help. Sorry, but I don’t need it this time.”
This is an internal (and sometimes external) monologue that I experience fairly often – well, not always about washing feet, but you know what I mean.
Why bother someone else with my problems/troubles when I can handle it? I don’t want to put people through that. There is no need to burden others in that way.
Well, that method of thinking pretty much got me through 20+ years of life fairly unscathed. However, I think it also forced me to be distant at times. It also may have made some internal challenges even more difficult than they had to be.
Moving to South Africa was pretty much a crash course in “Accepting Help from Others: 101.” At the beginning of my time here, I tried to turn down help and various other offers as much as possible. If I didn’t have money with me, I wouldn’t eat with everyone else. If I was confused about something, I would just sit silently in that confusion until I figured it out myself (or just gave up and moved on). If I was feeling homesick, I wouldn’t tell anyone – rather, I probably just seemed really crabby for no reason.
Doesn’t sound too great, does it? Well, let me tell you this – it wasn’t. Not only was I hurting myself, but I was hurting my community by not allowing them to help in the ways that they wanted and I needed.
I am learning to be more like Simon Peter at the end of the story – the part where he allows Jesus to wash his feet and even asks to have his head and hands washed as well.
I have come to realize that the reliance on support from others is not a negative thing. South Africans actually have a word for this – Ubuntu. Ubuntu is a beautiful word and an even more beautiful idea, but it can be hard to explain. Here is my attempt:
Ubuntu is relying on your neighbors. Ubuntu is realizing that you who you are because of the people you are surrounded with. Ubuntu is accepting help and being prepared to give help when it is needed. Ubuntu is the basic humanity toward others.
Who knows, maybe ubuntu could also be described as accepting other people’s offers to wash your feet.