In a few minutes we will be reenacting something Jesus modeled for us – by washing feet. Much of its meaning is lost to us moderns who find Jesus’ action foreign. So, the challenge for us is to translate that message for our time.
The shock of Jesus’ action was that only slaves or servants washed feet. Yet, Jesus their master and Lord not only abandoned his social status with his disciples but He also endured the repulsive aspects of this action because, besides dirt, animal dung had a way of sticking to the feet of people. So practically speaking, washing feet created a much more pleasant environment for a meal.
Jesus washed the feet of his disciples as a model of service and love. In doing so, He lowered Himself to the status of a slave showing us what love means. This love was not a feeling but an active and costly self-giving, a lesson He repeated by pouring out His cleansing blood for us. If that's what love meant for Jesus, then as his followers that is what it means for us. He told us, "I have given you a model to follow."
So, for our experience today we need to ask, what are our unpleasant tasks or dirt we need to deal with before our Paschal Meal? Our penitential rite serves to remove the sinful dung of our lives, but there are many other challenging issues to contend with as we relate to one another.
Peter’s response to Jesus raised one of them. He was not going to submit to Jesus’ activity. In his eyes, this humiliating gesture seemed to him to be an inversion of his values that regulated his relationship to Jesus. Peter disapproved of the equality that Jesus wanted to create. In other words, Peter was not ready to share Jesus’ dynamic of love, which is demonstrated in reciprocal service. In doing so he ran the risk of losing his relationship to Jesus.
We all can relate to Peter on that score. We have strong convictions and make them a priority whether they be about ‘Religion and politics’ or ‘marital morality’ or ‘any other issue’ that we challenge the Church on. Jesus told Peter, “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet….” Jesus is promoting a value that says love toward others demands acceptance and hospitality in ongoing service.
I see implications to Peter’s response being maintained in us through another perspective, that of domination. And I wonder if those same dynamics have kept people from serving because of the controlling domination of those who serve, like Peter attempted to do. International speaker and sales trainer Grant Cardone says, “If you can’t dominate don’t compete.” If we put that in the context of ‘serving’ it can give us some evidence of why people may be reluctant to serve.
Service is an act of mercy, not a means for self-aggrandizement or for acquiring power - like Obamacare imposes on the Sister of the Poor. Why doesn’t our Supreme Court know we need more foot washers?
The great people of Jesus’ Kingdom are those who serve others and consider themselves the least entitled. They don’t lord their authority over others or want a prestigious title to draw attention to themselves. To acknowledge Jesus as Lord does not lead to domination through service but to a selfless freedom to serve.
A British Medical Journal researched why people desired euthanasia and came to this conclusion: "Participants in their study desired euthanasia or assisted suicide because of disintegration and a loss of community, which combined to create a perception of a loss of self." They saw that their feet were filthy, but no one came by to wash them, and so they conclude that they were not worth washing, and they lost hope and death looked like an attractive solution to their perceived worthlessness. They need someone to wash their feet, to remind them that they still matter. The antidote ‘to our culture of death’ is Christ-like love and Jesus invites us to dispense it, by washing the feet of others.
“As I have done, so you also must do.” Jesus stoops down from the height of his divinity to serve us. He elevates us into divine communion, so that we too can descend and reach out to others. We are to go out to those in chronic poverty, reach out to battered women, the handicapped, the dying, the unborn, and those many nobodies in the eyes of the world. Our society treats them as nothing. So we must become like them, and live for others. Jesus ordered his whole life towards the service of others. So must we.