If you’ve got a Bible close to you, check out John 13:3. Just read that verse, try not to go past it. Or try to ignore what comes after it. Get this image of Jesus in all his glory, coming on the clouds of heaven, as promised. Imagine the glory of God coming to his people as a man, the King of kings and Lord of lords. Jesus Christ, the eternal one, shining in his splendor, high above all of creation, in control, letting his love command all things.
Ok. Now read verses 4 and 5. Do you sense some disconnect? Well, maybe we should.
I think we’ve forgotten how shocking the Washing of the Feet was for the disciples. I mean, the Gospel tells us that Jesus was fully aware of where he came from and where he was going and that all the power of God, the Creator, had been given to him. And what does he do with that glory and that power?
He Washes Feet.
It doesn’t make sense. He could have walked into Jerusalem, summoned his followers who had just made a big ruckus on Palm Sunday, demanded the throne of Israel, and become a god among men. Or so some of his disciples thought. Instead, Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords, indeed God among men, took off even his humblest of robes, got on his knees and became a slave. And it’s even worse than that. At that time, slaves didn’t even do the actual foot washing themselves. They may have brought the water, but it would have been completely inappropriate for the slave to actually touch the feet of the guests. So maybe Peter was justified in not wanting to get his feet washed.
What Jesus did was completely inappropriate.
But the Washing of the Feet needed to happen. The Betrayal in the Garden needed to happen. The Crucifixion, alone and embarrassed, needed to happen. It all needed to happen, because the glory of our God is not by lording our wealth, our power, our being right all the time, our talent, our knowledge, our anything, over any one. It’s about getting on our hands and knees and loving someone more than they thought they were worth.
So with all the beautiful madness that made up the last week of our life as a Church, from when we celebrated Christ’s giving himself to us in the Eucharist on Holy Thursday, to his awful and terrible and brutal death on Good Friday, when we could lay down our own embarrassments and shames and sins and let him nail them to the Cross, to the Easter Vigil, when we sang the song of Victory all night long and witnessed so many new brothers and sisters join us in that victory of Baptism, to Easter Sunday itself, when we walked away from that dark, empty tomb, to meet Christ on the road, I want to share that one moment of Foot Washing that changed the way I saw it all.
Now, there’s all kinds of debate over who should get their Feet Washed on Holy Thursday: 12 men only by the priest; or only 12 people, men or women; or just bring every one up and let everyone do the Foot Washing. I don’t care much for the debate (there are good points on all sides), so I won’t get into it. But I will say this: at my home parish of St. Monica’s, we Wash everyone’s Feet, and there is nothing like it all year long in any Mass any where I have ever been.
This year, I was able to Wash some Feet, but what struck me the most was when I was able to assist one of our priests as he Washed the Feet of people he knew and people he didn’t know. Some of them were close friends. Some were people he had heard the Confessions of, knowing their greatest failures, but also their greatest hopes. Some were people he was meeting for the first time. But he was their servant: he asked them their name; he Kissed their Feet; he took his time; he let it be an encounter with Christ, both ways. They were sometimes driven to tears by his care and their need for such an act of love; he met Jesus in their need, and served “the least of his brothers and sisters.” I may have learned more about what it means to be a Foot Washer by watching this priest love his people in the simplest, most humbling of acts we perform all year long in Mass.
The Foot Washing does not, cannot end when Holy Thursday ends. Remember, Jesus’s act of glory and kingship was an act of service. And his glory and his kingship do not, cannot end. So even when the towels and pitchers and water bowls are put away until next year’s Holy Thursday Mass, we’ve got to find different ways to Wash Feet. It’s in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting those who’ve got no one else to talk to, it’s forgiving those who’ve hurt us the most, it’s doing all the dirty work we keep asking God to not put into our lives, it’s doing those acts of humility we’ve thought ourselves better than. The point is, we never run out of Feet to Wash as Christians.
And we are never above Washing Feet.
Sorry, it’s not really up to us.
God did it first.