As Maundy Thursday approaches with you I am reminded of the washing of feet. According to John 13, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples before the last meal he shared with them. Over the generations since Jesus did this, Christians have memorialized his actions through the symbolic washing of feet.
I remember Maundy Thursday worship services when I have washed other peoples’ feet. There was the woman who couldn’t stop giggling as I washed her feet because she was ticklish. I remember the young man who was incredibly tall and had feet that matched his height but then didn’t fit in the wash basin! And the older man who was so humble that he couldn’t look at me as I washed his feet. During past Holy Weeks I have also washed the feet of homeless persons as an expression of Christian charity. This latter experience has been both humbling and disturbing.
As I have washed the feet of homeless men and women I have felt so undeserving of all that I have. Why me and not the person whose feet I have washed? It has been disturbing to know that at the end of our worship time and the meals that have followed I would go home to all that I had while the one whose feet I had washed would return to wandering the dusty and often cruel streets of our communities without a place to call home. Charity even when expressed with love is good but never enough.
I also remember washing the feet of immigrant men and children after they had traveled for days on foot through mountains and valleys, along rivers and across deserts. Their feet would be so swollen and blistered that even removing their shoes was unbearably painful to them. This washing of feet included learning how to cut away the worst blisters I had ever seen, and anointing the feet of these suffering ones with antibiotics, bandaging them, and then figuring out how to put clean socks on their feet without adding further pain to the one whose feet I had washed. The feet of the immigrant children were always less damaged but they held up little bodies that were full of fear and foreboding. No child should ever have to live this way. It was in the washing of the feet of immigrant men and children that I came to an even deeper understanding of what Jesus did for his disciples and calls us to do for each other.
What I have never done is wash the feet of someone who abandoned or betrayed me, and I have experienced both. Jesus, however, excludes no one from his love. As he strips down to a towel wrapped around his waist and kneels before his followers to wash their feet he knows that Judas is already engaged in betraying him and that Peter would abandon him as he is taken into custody by the authorities who will crucify him. Jesus’ heart must have been heavy with this knowledge but he doesn’t allow his keen awareness of human abandonment or even betrayal to overwhelm or lead his heart of love.
A love like Jesus’ is hard to understand. It is a love not learned in the abstract but in its practice. Jesus knew he would need to help us understand. After washing each of the disciples’ feet, Jesus says to them as he says to us now, “I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:15).
Washing the feet of others does not come naturally to us. Jesus tells us to do it anyway. It is in following his lead that we will learn to love each other as he loved us. It is by following Jesus that we will reach that place of intimacy with each other that cuts through all that keeps us distant from each other. It is in following Jesus and doing for each other as he has done for us that our hearts might just become humble enough to truly move us from charity alone to the justice of Jesus’ own heart. It is in loving as Jesus loves that I believe we will be able to overcome the anger, the hatred and the violence that is part of the human heart that keeps us at war with each other, the small wars that destroy our individual lives and the large wars that hold the possibility of destroying whole communities, nations and even the world.
Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (John 13:34) Loving others without exception as Jesus has loved us is the only worthy response.
Prayer: Lord, forgive us for not loving each other as you have loved us. Teach us Lord, how to be your faithful disciples, loving servants to each other. Amen.
– Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño, California-Nevada Conference