We hadn’t lived in India for very long before Jenny had a spiritual revelation. It wasn’t a let’s-go-smoke-hash-with-the-sadhus kind of revelation, nor was it a let’s-dedicate-ourselves-to-free-love-and-yoga-and-live-at-Osho kind of revelation. Instead, her revelation was much more fundamental to a particular Bible story that she’d never fully understood: “Now I know why Jesus washed those feet!”
The story in the Bible is this: at some point after his last supper, Jesus decided to teach his disciples a lesson. Grabbing a bucket and a bar of soap, he bends down and starts scrubbing his buddies’ feet. They protest and try to dissuade him until he revs up the ol’ parable machine, looks them in the eye, and says, “The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.”
Though Jenny is not religious, the symbolic lessons of this Sunday School passage had always been clear: the dangers of arrogance, the sin of pride, the imperative of respect that all leaders should have for their followers and all people should have for each other. But what had never been clear to Jenny, from the moment she frowned at that Sunday School text until this very point in her adult life, was this: why would anyone want their feet washed?
Now she knew: as it was in in ancient Jerusalem, so too is it in modern New Delhi: walking around a hot and dusty city in sandals gets your feet really, really dirty.
Calling me to the shower to show off her blackened soles, Jenny explained to me her revelation not about symbolic meaning, but about literal necessity: that Jesus was washing feet because, man, look how dirty feet can actually get!
She was right. Man, was she right.
Then Jenny handed me the bar of soap and gestured spiritually. I thought about the danger of arrogance, the sin of pride, the imperative of respect; and then I handed the soap back to her, headed back to the sofa, put my own filthy feet back up on the coffee table, and went back to watching Friends.