“Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him... Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet...” (from John 13:1-17)
As we conclude our Lenten journey and begin to make our approach into Holy Week, I began thinking about one of the most powerful acts of servitude Jesus does within his ministry: washing the feet of his disciples after sharing a final Passover meal with them. Jesus knelt down and washed the feet of each disciple, even the one who would soon betray him.
For centuries, it has been a papal tradition that the Pope commemorates Jesus’s act by washing the feet of twelve Vatican priests. It became a beautiful ritual, one that eventually lost any real power or impact. In the usual tradition, on Holy (Maundy) Thursday Pope Francis washed the feet of twelve priests... and then he opened the circle much wider. He knelt down and began to wash the feet of women, Muslim migrants, prison inmates, the homeless, the disabled, and the dispossessed. Many were appalled that the Pope would do such a thing. And in doing so, the ritual of Jesus’s act of servant-leadership had regained its shocking, inspiring impact once again.
Sometimes, the only thing harder than humbling ourselves to “wash the feet” of others, is to allow our own “feet to be washed.” Accepting and receiving the deepest love of another is often (paradoxically) more difficult than providing that kind of love. Peter struggled with it. He initially refused to allow Jesus to wash his dusty feet. But Jesus modeled how we are to act with one another by kneeling before his friends: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”
We are told by Jesus to assume a posture of humility and care for the needs of those around us, sometimes the most physical and tangible needs. And just as importantly, we are told by Jesus to allow others to care for us in the same way. This can be the deeper challenge for many of us, as it was for Peter. May we have the grace to both give andreceive humble, loving care, in the way our Servant-Leader, Jesus, showed his disciples.
Yours on the Journey,