The Common Good

'Have You Tried Washing Their Feet?'

1100222-washfeetA few weeks ago, I got a free sermon on the metro.

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During rush hour in Washington, D.C., I boarded a nearly-empty metro car, grateful to find a seat in the 5 o'clock frenzy. However, as the automated doors slid shut, it became clear why this particular car wasn't so crowded: A man was standing in the middle of the car, waving a Bible and ranting against gay people.

As a Christian, said the man, he felt called to point out sin when he saw it. He waved his Bible around and screamed words like "abomination," "hell," and "judgment."

A few people told him to be quiet while the rest of the rush-hour crowd fidgeted with their smart phones and tried to ignore him. Undaunted, the man plowed on about how "homosexuals know they are living in sin ... I've even talked to them," he added.

"Yeah, but have you tried washing their feet?" asked another passenger from somewhere on the train. I couldn't tell who offered this unexpected response, but I thought about it the rest of the ride home.

Growing up in the world of evangelical megachurches, I heard a lot of people who claimed to know "what the Bible says about homosexuality." Though their yards sported signs about "defending marriage," none of these Christians seemed to know any "homosexuals," much less consider them friends.

I first met members of the LGBT community in high school and college -- people who became my dear friends. I never washed their feet, but I came to know them through ordinary acts of friendship: movie marathons, Starbucks-fueled study sessions, and late night trips to Wal-Mart (Hey, it was college).

And as these friendships deepened, my perspective changed: I came to see that the God who rolled up his robes and washed his disciples' feet is not a God who doles out judgment from on high -- or on the metro. When Jesus says, "you should do as I have done for you," he calls us to imitate a God who took on flesh, kneeling in humility, pouring water over our dirty toes -- a God who knows each of us intimately.

I don't think we can claim to know what the Bible says until we have washed each other's feet -- knowing the blisters and callouses as well as we know the verses.

Of course, the man on the train was too busy shouting Bible verses to hear the foot-washing suggestion. "Doesn't anybody want to know the truth?" he demanded, glaring at the passengers.

Nobody did. Not from him.

Betsy Shirley is an editorial assistant at Sojourners.

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