receiving, not just giving


Feet waching

“a new command i give you: love one another. as I have loved you, so you must love one another. by this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” – john 13:34-35

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today is maundy thursday.  i’ve heard the word for years but honestly really never knew what the word “maundy” meant–all you liturgical geeks are probably cringing right now, but i was glad to find out today i wasn’t the only one.  in latin, maundy means “command”, reflecting the commands that Jesus gave his disciples in the upper room the night he was betrayed.  honestly, none of these holy week days had very much significance in the christian systems that i grew up in.  most everything there skipped over the hard parts and stayed focused toward resurrection sunday and the hope of new life and more people to start coming to church post-easter.

as i’ve mentioned, this year the refuge has been journeying through the church calendar together, starting with advent.  we have always honored good friday with a special gathering, but this year we included a maundy thursday reflection time as well.  it was a lovely hour spent with some beautiful friends meditating on Jesus and the passage in john 13 of Jesus washing the disciples feet as a powerful example of what love looks like.   even though we didn’t do a foot washing as part of our gathering, i was reminded how it’s really not that hard to wash other people’s feet. i have done it before in my christian experience, and while beautiful, it is not that difficult.

on the other hand, having someone else wash mine–well that’s a whole different story. a few years ago we had a foot washing as part of mercy boot camp, an intensive we hosted at the refuge.  i can say that it was brutally hard for me to soak in the love and sacrifice of my friends as they washed my feet.  i will never, ever forget the experience.

today got me thinking more intentionally about something i say all the time–for most people, it’s way easier to give than receive. i know it is for me.  it’s easy to be in the driver’s seat, the place where we are somehow “helping” or “loving” someone else., the place where we get to offer our love, our time, our resources on someone’s behalf.  and i do believe a big reason why the “missional” conversation is so on-fire right now in the wider-church-in-the-sky is that it is calling out God’s image in us that many modern systems have been neglecting in terms of spiritual formation–to love with more than just words.  to enter into the places no one else wants to go and offer hope and help in really tangible ways.  and of course, i’m not saying that’s easy.  i am just saying that i think giving is easier than actually receiving.

this powerful story of Jesus washing the disciples feet and calling us to do the same reminded me of how much humility it requires to let someone else wash ours.  to humble ourselves and let others’ “good” in, too.  to allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to receive.   to respect and recognize what a huge barrier pride, control, and power really are.


yeah, giving is important.  serving is important.  sacrificial love is important.  and on special days like this it seems easy to get convicted by all the focus on sacrificial love and think maybe i just need to give more.

but what if the greater sacrifice is to let someone else wash our feet, instead of us washing theirs? to receive love instead of give it? to be like the disciples, and let the least likely person in the room pass love on to us?

true community, true love, is about washing each other’s feet.  loving others.  letting others love us.   the missional conversation is not complete with mainly focusing on giving and not teaching about the power of receiving.  receiving from those that we think only need us.  receiving from others who are different from us.  receiving from those just like us.  receiving from the least & the last.

and yeah, one of the prettiest parts of this story is a reminder that we can’t parse it all out and keep God and people separate.  i have no doubt that part of loving God is letting God love us through letting people love us.  yikes, that’s a lot of letting love in.

maybe that’s the hardest part.  maybe that’s why Jesus made this such a big deal.  maybe that’s why most of us don’t learn this in churches because most leaders don’t know how to receive and our human default is self-protection.  many of us only know how to give.  because it’s safer.  easier.  far more comfortable.  oh yeah, i am so busted on this.  this is not new information for me or for those around me–i mostly stink at receiving, at really letting others sacrifice for me.  receiving from people, receiving from God are not my strong points.  and in these moments of intentional reflection and a steeping in the gospel stories i am painfully aware of how truly annoying the ways of Jesus really are when they get under your skin.

and on a less personal note,  i was also reminded yet again that maybe the world would feel more loved by us as christians if we would humble ourselves enough to shut up, sit down, and actually receive–to let others’ offerings in instead of dismissing it or being so busy offering ours.

so today, this maundy thursday 2010, i am grateful for Christ’s reminder of what love looks like.  not just giving, but humbly receiving. too.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • Ok, I admit, I did not know either what Maundy meant, and to make it worst, my imagination what it meant was totally different – something akin to “sorrowful” – duh.

    why is receiveing so hard?… I believe it is because we have to become vulnerable and we do not do that well in that dpt….and that’s why I excell in the serving dpt….for all the reasons you gave…

    BTW, “Quod Libet” = latin for “whatever”

    P.S. mayb I should’ve heeded your admonition and simply written “I receive”…:-)

  • yeah kath, that receiving part is so stinking hard. i have no control over that piece and i love control lol. and pride gets in my way, as well. i think that is why Jesus washed their feet. i am trying to learn how to receive, but it’s a slow process. but that rascal God seems to keep giving me chances to practice, until i get it right. lol

  • Thank you Kathy – I wish I’d read this before I preached on Maundy Thursday…I was stumbling around the same sort of issues, but you arrived where I wanted to go with much greater clarity & have left me with much to think about.

  • carlos – yeah, i think that’s it–the vulnerability part. i sometimes say it’s fairly easy to be transparent–“here’s what’s going on with me, etc.” but that is one-way. real vulnerability is being able to receive input, love, etc. etc. from others, too. it’s two-way. i’m not too good at latin, ha ha

    jamie – thanks for reading from afar…

    mike – “that rascal God”–that made me smile. yeah, being out of control isn’t our favorite seat in the house, that’s for sure. i am glad we’re trying to learn all this nuttiness together.

    mark – ouch…in a good way, ha ha

    kathryn – thanks for taking time to comment and share. this was the first time we had ever honored maundy thursday and it really was space we want to keep holding because it stirred up so many important reflections that often get overlooked. i would love to hear more about your community…


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