The Ethiopian icon has something of a playful quality about it. Appearing like cartoon figures at first glance, the picture is almost easy to dismiss. As we look more carefully, however, there is a halo and the depiction of Jesus. The other figures appearing are the disciples. I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but looking at the expressions of all the characters. It seems as if their eyes are about to pop-out. The disciples are not looking out but they are fixed on Jesus and the eyes of Jesus are set on the disciples. There is some intensity in the body language.
Then, upon closer examination, it is apparent Jesus is washing the feet of one of the disciples, Peter. Some may be familiar with this story but for those who are not, this is the last encounter Jesus has with his followers prior to being arrested in the Garden. It should be intense. Here they are gathered together in the Upper Room. They break bread. It is Passover. Little did the disciples really think this would be their last supper with Jesus.
Jesus talks about his body being the bread and his blood was the wine—his life and his presence—are mixed and mingled in with the meal. Washing the disciples feet comes as complete surprise. It is a total reversal of the roles between teacher and student and reshuffles the pecking order of greatest and least, first and last, top and bottom, by putting everyone on the level playing field of God’s love.
Little did the disciples know this is not only the last supper but this is the day before the crucifixion. In one sense time is up. In another sense, with Jesus, time is never over. It is eternal. It is everlasting. It is what allows us to speak of such things as, godliness. More importantly, we are not only to speak of godliness but live godliness.
Godliness is revealed in a wide variety of ways. One way is pictured in the Ethiopian icon. It is about washing feet, serving, and being humble. There in the Upper Room, the disciples are taught to “do this in remembrance of me.” Of course the disciples will always remember. How in the world can they forget? They saw him in the garden and they saw him again in the praetorium, the court room, where Pilate was the judge. Then they saw him whipped and beaten. Lastly, they saw him hanging on a cross. They said they wouldn’t forget. They said they would remember always and forever.
And herein lies the secret of Jesus, the disciples, washing feet, eating bread, and even the Ethiopian icon. Because of the resurrection they did not forget. As a result of the resurrection, they no longer spoke about godliness. They lived it. It became a character trait. They remembered.
Of course, godliness is hard to come by these days. It is not a word we use on our resume. It doesn’t appear on Gallup’s strength finder or a Myers-Briggs personality test.
Look again at the icon. Remember.
Image credit: Jesus washing Peter’s feet. Ethiopian icon. Picture taken by John Kohan. Permission granted.