My first pet came in the form of a childhood Christmas Eve gift. Somewhere I have a snapshot of a brown and white Chinese pug; small enough to fit in my father’s hand; cute enough to steal my eight-year-old heart. We named her Liz.
I carried her all day. Her floppy ears fascinated me, and her flat nose intrigued me. I even took her to bed. So what if she smelled like a dog? I thought the odor was cute. So what if she whined and whimpered? I thought the noise was cute. So what if she did her business on my pillow? Can’t say I thought it was cute, but I didn’t mind.
Mom and Dad had made it clear in our prenuptial agreement that I was to be Liz’s caretaker, and I was happy to oblige. I cleaned her little eating dish and opened her can of puppy food. The minute she lapped up some water, I replenished it. I kept her hair combed and her tail wagging.
Within a few days, however, my feelings changed a bit. Liz was still my dog and I was still her friend, but I grew weary with her barking, and she seemed hungry an awful lot. More than once my folks had to remind me, “Take care of her. She is your dog.”
I didn’t like hearing those words — your dog. I wouldn’t have minded the phrase, “your dog to play with” or “your dog when you want her.” Or even, “your dog when she is behaving.” But those weren’t my parents’ words. They said. “Liz is your dog.” Period. In sickness and in health. For richer for poorer. In dryness and in wetness.
That’s when it occurred to me. I am stuck with Liz. The courtship was over and the honeymoon had ended. We were mutually leashed. Liz went from an option to an obligation; from a pet to a chore; from someone to play with to someone to care for.
Perhaps you can relate? Chances are you know the claustrophobia that comes with commitment. Only instead of being reminded, she is “your dog,” you’re told, “He is your husband.” Or, “She is your wife.” Or, “He is your child, parent, employee or boss or roommate” or any other relationship which requires loyalty for survival.
Such permanence can lead to panic — at least it did in me. I had to answer some tough questions. Can I tolerate the same flat-nosed, hairy, hungry face every morning? (You wives know the feeling?) Am I going to be barked at until the day I die? (Any kids connecting here?) Will she ever learn to clean up her own mess? (Did I hear an “amen” from some parents?)
Such are the questions we ask when we feel stuck with someone. There is a word for this condition. Upon consulting the one-word medical dictionary (which I wrote the day before I crafted this chapter), I discovered that the condition I’m describing is a common malady known as stuckititis. (Stuck meaning trapped. Iritis being the six letters you tag on to any word if you want it to sound impressive. Read it out loud: stuckititis.). Max’s Manual of Medical Terms has this to say about the condition:
Attacks of stuckititis are limited to people who breathe and typically occur somewhere between birth and death. Stuckititis manifests itself in irritability, short fuses, and a mountain range of molehills. The common symptom of stuckititis victims is the repetition of questions beginning with who, what, and why. Who is this person? What was I thinking? Why didn’t I listen to my mother?”1
This prestigious manual identifies three ways to cope with stuckititis: flee, fight, or forgive. Some opt to flee: to get out of the relationship and start again elsewhere, though they are often surprised when the condition surfaces on the other side of the fence as well. Others fight. Houses become combat zones and offices become boxing rings and tension becomes a way of life. A few, however, discover another treatment: forgiveness. My manual has no model for how forgiveness occurs, but the Bible does.
Jesus Himself knew the feeling of being stuck with someone. For three years He ran with the same crew. By and large, He saw the same dozen or so faces around the table, around the campfire, around the clock. They rode the same boats and walked the same roads and visited the same houses, and I wonder, how did Jesus stay so devoted to His men? Not only did He have to put up with their visible oddities, He had to endure their invisible foibles. Think about it. He could hear their unspoken thoughts. He knew their private doubts. Not only that, He knew their future doubts. What if you knew every mistake your loved ones ever made, and every mistake they ever will make? What if you knew every thought they would have about you, every irritation, every betrayal?
Was it hard for Jesus to love Peter, knowing Peter would someday curse Him? Was it tough to trust Thomas, knowing Thomas would one day question Jesus’ resurrection? How did Jesus resist the urge to recruit a new batch of followers? John wanted to destroy one enemy. Peter sliced off the ear of another. Just days before Jesus’ death, His disciples were arguing about which of them was the best! How was He able to love people who were hard to like?
Few situations stir panic like the one of being trapped in a relationship. It’s one thing to be stuck with a puppy, but something else entirely to be stuck in a marriage. We may chuckle over goofy terms like stuckititis, but for many this is no laughing matter. For that reason, I think it wise that we begin our study of what it means to be just like Jesus by pondering His heart of forgiveness. How was Jesus able to love His disciples? The answer is found in the John 13.
With Towel and Basin
Of all the times we see the bowing knees of Jesus, none is so precious as when He knelt before His disciples and washed their feet.
It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved His own who were in the world, He now showed them the full extent of His love.
The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power, and that He had come from God and was returning to God; so He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing, and began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him (John 13:1-5). It had been a long day. Jerusalem was packed with Passover guests, most of whom clamored for a glimpse of the Teacher. The spring sun was warm. The streets were dry. And the disciples were a long way from home. A splash of cool water would be refreshing. The disciples enter, one by one, and take their places around the table. On the wall hangs a towel and on the floor sits a pitcher and a basin. Any one of the disciples could have volunteered for the job, but not one did.
After a few moments, Jesus stands and removes His outer garment. He wraps a servant’s girdle around His waist, takes up the basin and kneels before one of the disciples. He unlaces a sandal and gently lifts the foot and places it in the basin, covers it with water and begins to bathe it. One by one. One grimy foot after another, Jesus works His way down the row.
In Jesus’ day the washing of feet was a task reserved, not just for servants, but for the lowest of servants. Every circle has its pecking order and the circle of household workers was no exception. The servant at the bottom of the totem pole was expected to be the servant on his knees with the towel and basin.
In this case the one with the towel and basin is the king of the universe. Hands which shaped the stars wash away filth. Fingers which formed mountains massage toes. The one before whom all nations will one day kneel, now kneels before His disciples. Hours before His own death, Jesus’ concern is singular. He wants His disciples to know how much He loves them. More than removing dirt, Jesus is removing doubt.
This is the night before His crucifixion. Jesus knows what will happen to His hands. Within twenty-four hours they will be pierced and lifeless. Of all the times we’d expect him to ask for the disciples’ attention, this would be one. But He doesn’t.
You can be sure Jesus knows the future of these feet He is washing. These twenty-four feet will not spend the next day following their master, defending His cause. These feet will dash for cover at the flash of the Roman sword. Only one pair of feet didn’t abandon Him in the garden. There is one disciple who won’t desert him at Gethsemane — Judas won’t even make it that far! He abandons Jesus that very night at the table.
I looked for a Bible translation which reads, “Jesus washed all the disciples’ feet except the feet of Judas,” but I couldn’t find one. What a passionate moment when Jesus silently lifted the feet of His betrayer and washed them in the basin! Within hours the feet of Judas, cleansed by the kindness of the one he came to betray, will stand in Caiaphas’ court.
Behold the gift Jesus gave His followers! He knows what these men are about to do. He knows they are about to perform the vilest act of their lives. By morning they will bury their heads in shame and look down at their feet in disgust. And when they do, He wants them to remember how His knees knelt before them and He washed their feet. He wants them to realize those feet are still clean. “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but you will understand later.”
Remarkable. He forgave their sin before they committed it. He offered mercy before they sought it.
From the Basin of His Grace
Oh, I could never do that, you object. The hurt is so deep. The wounds are so numerous. Just seeing the person causes me to cringe. Perhaps that is your problem. Perhaps you are seeing the wrong person or at least too much of the wrong person. Remember, the secret of being just like Jesus is “fixing our eyes” on him. Try shifting your glance away from the one who hurt you and setting your eyes on the one who has saved you.
Note the promise of John. “But if we live in the light as God is in the light, we can share fellowship with each other. Then the blood of Jesus, God’s Son, cleanses us from every sin” (1 John 1:7-9).
Aside from geography and chronology, our story is the same as the disciples’. We weren’t in Jerusalem and we weren’t alive that night. But what Jesus did for them He has done for us. He has cleansed us. He has cleansed our hearts from sin.
Even more, He is still cleansing us! John says, “We are being cleansed from every sin by the blood of Jesus” (NIV, italics mine). In other words, we are always being cleansed. The cleansing is not a promise for the future but a reality in the present. Let a speck of dust fall on the soul of a saint and it is washed away. Let a spot of filth land on the heart of God’s child and the filth is wiped away. Jesus still cleans His disciples’ feet. Jesus still washes away stains. Jesus still purifies His people.
Our Savior kneels down and gazes upon the darkest acts of our lives. But rather than recoil in horror. He reaches out in kindness and says, “I can clean that if you want.” And from the basin of His grace, He scoops a palm full of mercy and washes away our sin.
But that’s not all He does. Because He lives in us, you and I can do the same. Because He has forgiven us, we can forgive others. Because He has a forgiving heart, we can have a forgiving heart. We can have a heart like His.
“If I have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I did this as an example so that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:14-15).
Jesus washes our feet for two reasons. The first is to give us mercy. The second is to give us a message and that message is simply this: Jesus offers unconditional grace: we are to offer unconditional grace. The mercy of Christ preceded our mistakes; our mercy must precede the mistakes of others. Those in the circle of Christ had no doubt of His love; those in our circle should have no doubts about ours.
What does it mean to have a heart like His? It means to kneel as Jesus knelt, touching the grimy parts of the people we are stuck with and washing away their unkindnesses with kindness. Or as Paul wrote, “Be kind and loving to each other and forgive each other just as God forgave you in Christ” (Ephesians 4:32).
“But Max,” you are saying, “I’ve done nothing wrong. I’m not the one who cheated. I’m not the one who lied. I’m not the guilty party here.” Perhaps you aren’t. But neither was Jesus. Of all the men in that room, only one was worthy of having His feet washed. And He was the one who washed the feet. The one worthy of being served, served others. The genius of Jesus’ example is that the burden of bridge-building falls on the strong one, not on the weak one. The one who is innocent is the one who makes the gesture.
You know what happens? More often than not, if the one in the right volunteers to wash the feet of the one in the wrong, both parties get on their knees. Don’t we all think we are right? Hence we wash each other’s feet.
Please understand. Relationships don’t thrive because the guilty are punished, but because the innocent are merciful.
The Power of Forgiveness
Some time ago I shared a meal with a some friends. A husband and wife wanted to tell me about a storm they were weathering. Through a series of events, she learned of an act of infidelity which had occurred over a decade ago. He’d made the very honest mistake of thinking it’d be better not to tell her, so he didn’t. But she found out, and was deeply hurt.
Through the advice of a counselor, the couple dropped everything and went away for a several days. A decision had to be made. Would they flee, fight, or forgive? So they prayed. They talked. They walked. They reflected. In this case, the wife was clearly in the right. She could have left. Women have done so for lesser reasons. Or she could have stayed and made his life a living hell. Other women have done that. But she chose a different response.
On the tenth night of their trip, my friend found a card on his pillow. On the card was a printed verse. ‘I’d rather do nothing with you than something with-out you.” Beneath the verse she had written these words:
“I forgive you. I love you. Let’s move on.”
The card might as well have been a basin. And the pen might as well have been a pitcher of water, for out of it poured pure mercy and with it she washed her husband’s feet.
Certain conflicts can only be resolved with a basin of water. Are any relationships in your world thirsty for mercy? Are there any who sit around your table who need to be assured of your grace? Jesus made sure His disciples had no reason to doubt His love. Why don’t you do the same?
1Max Lucado. Ph.D of Etymological Contortionism. Maws Manual of Medical Terms. (Nonsense. TX: One Page Publishing) 1998. sol. 1, ch.1, p. 1, sentence 1.
Excerpted with permission from Just Like Jesus, Max Lucado, 1998, Word, Inc., Nashville, TN. All Rights Reserved.

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