WASHING THE FEET OF OTHERS
As we move into Holy Week and, mindful of last weekend’s reflection, we might consider the responsibilities that reception of the Eucharist places upon us. What sort of God do we reveal to others?
A simple question with a difficult answer. Of course, we know God is love. God loved us so much He gave His Son for the salvation of the world. But if God is love, some people ask why aren’t Christians more loving?
In a simple, humble act of service which we honour on Thursday, Jesus revealed what sort of God we worship. And He gave us a command to act in the same way. Despite the caveat of Judas in John 13:2, these verses led up to the act of love He would show His followers: the washing of their feet. This can be divided into three sections: the washing and Jesus’ insight, Peter’s objection, and Jesus’ command to do likewise.
Because Jesus came from God, because He had the power to lay down His life and take it up again, because He was all-powerful like His Father, He could tie a towel around His waist and wash His followers’ feet. Because He was God, He could so humiliate Himself. All for love.
Peter confused Jesus’ service with the hospitality of a Jewish host. At that time, Jewish homes had jars filled with water for ritual cleansing. When Jews entered a home, they would use the water to wash their head and hands as a means to purify themselves (make themselves ritually “clean”; see John 2:6). When Peter objected to Jesus’ foot washing, he questioned the humbling (even humiliating) role of Jesus as servant. Jesus countered with a rejection of association, clearly something Peter cherished. Since ritual purity preceded table fellowship (one had to cleanse himself before he could eat with friends at a party), Peter insisted Jesus wash his head and hands as a sign of ritual “cleansing.” Still, Peter missed the point. He was ritually “clean” since he had (presumably) done the washings.
Jesus had added a new level of association. No longer was ritual purification needed. No, to be a follower meant something deeper. A Christian willingly receives and gives service. A Christian “washes the feet of others,” even those who would betray them. After all, Jesus did wash the feet of Judas!
When we compare these two commands of Jesus at the Last Supper, (“Do this in memory of me” and, referring to the washing, ” I gave you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.”), certain themes come forward.
In Matthew, Mark, Luke and 1 Corinthians, Jesus invoked the command during the Words of Institution. In the context of the Eucharist, the reception of the Body and Blood marked the Christian. For the Christian had a share in the Lord’s pending death and resurrection. And a share in risen, everlasting life. In John’s Gospel, Jesus told His followers to serve others, even if that meant being a slave. This defined the Christ and His follower.
Receiving risen life and communal service actually complement each other. One is a moment of revelation; the other is a moment of mission. As we read the Gospels, revelation entailed mission. (For example, when Jesus revealed himself to the Samaritan woman at the well, the woman responded by spreading the Good News; see John 4:25-29.) When the two commands converged at the Last Supper, the questions became clear. What did the disciples encounter at the Last Supper? What were they to do with this encounter? They encounter the Lord and His risen life. They also made a commitment to serve each other as the Lord had served them.
Jesus gave us a revelation in an example of service. When He washed His disciples’ feet, He showed them His Father, the God of love. When He gave His command to “do as I did to you,” He gave us a responsibility to reveal the God of love through our love.
How do we plan to “wash the feet” of others this week? How will this act of love help us prepare for Easter?
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