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The plink plink of water dripping in the bowl is the only sound in the room. Even the breathing has seemed to stop, save for the occasional sharp-indrawn breath or gasp as the rabbi’s callused laborer’s hands grasp a heel or sponge an instep with his sopping rag. Every reddened face is turned away, as if not to look is to banish the embarrassing scene playing out in this silent room—a scene in which we are all unwilling participants. I wait toward the end of the line, and I promise myself that if nobody does it before me I will put a stop to this perversity, this unholy upheaval of the order of things. All these are sheep, I grumble inwardly, mildly going along with another of the rabbi’s wild flights of fancy, his infuriating object lessons. One by one they raise their feet in meek collusion with his degradation. I scoff (silently) and vow not to play along.

Oh, I understand the lesson. It is the rabbi’s way of last-shall-be-firsting us into a new mold of community where the great are those who will abase themselves and act the slave, serving the dinner, scrubbing the crockery, washing the dirty feet. He has always been enamored of these turnabout notions of flipping the world on its ear, but a fundamental question remains unanswered: how will this—any of this—bring in the kingdom? All that matters is throwing off the brutal yoke of the Kittim; these little enacted parables of topsy-turvy social relations and open table fellowship may be all well and good, but will they bring the revolution? Not the one I’m looking for. I refuse to play along.

The rabbi draws nearer. He comes to Shimon, and finally someone objects! His gruff whisper fairly echoes in the quiet room: “You will never wash my feet!” But the rabbi leans in close, murmurs something in Shimon’s ear, and to my chagrin shears another sheep. Another dirty foot comes clean, another soldier falls in line, another disciple plays along.

Plink plink goes the dripping water, and I am next. The towel by this time is a filthy, soggy mess, and any pretense of cleaning has long gone by the boards. Still, the lesson holds, and he spells it out for the obtuse among us: “You call me Lord, but I am among you as one who serves,” and, “What I have done for you, you must do for one another.” Well, we will see about that. See if I play along.

I know how power works. I know on which side the bread is buttered. I can see who wields the sword in our land, and I know the only way to win is to wield a bigger sword. The governor has the priests in his pocket, and they think they have me in theirs. But my pocket holds thirty silver coins, the price of Joseph when his brothers sold him, and it will buy swords and hands to wield them. When the rabbi comes to his senses, when he realizes his destiny as the son of David, he will forswear these foolish games, set down his ridiculous bowl and towel, and take up the mantle of our mightiest king. All he needs is a little push, and he will play along.

I’m prepared to give him that push. A little night raid, a little kiss, and he will come around. He will—he must!—shake off these silly dreams of peace. They have no place in a time of war. For the fever of rebellion we need rebels, not foot washers. Lost in these thoughts, I am surprised when I feel those rough fingers wrap around my ankle and the wet cloth slide over my toes. I look up sharply to see the rabbi staring into my eyes with a look of indescribable sorrow and love and fury, as though he has read my thoughts, understands my plan, foresees the tableau in the garden, and knows he will not play along.

Grace and peace,