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It's Not About Dirty Feet

 Maundy Thursday

28 Mar 2024


Since I have been journeying through Lent with Peter, I started wondering  what he was thinking during the meal he shared with Jesus and the other disciples before Jesus is killed. In John’s Gospel, the disciples share a meal, but it is not the Passover.  It is still the final meal, the last supper, that they all have together. Jesus is well aware of what is to come.  Peter is not. He had to have known something is different, but he had no idea of what was to come and how he would initially betray, then ultimately keep the faith to the fullest.

That night he must have been very uncomfortable.  Not so much about having his feet washed, for that was a common custom with which he would have been quite familiar, but about the person doing the foot washing.  From our vantage point, the whole idea of having someone wash your feet may make you feel uncomfortable in a way you can’t describe. It does me.  For us it is not so much who is doing the foot washing, but the act itself.  For Peter, the problem was Jesus, the one doing the act.  Whether our discomfort stems from the act itself or the person doing it, that very discomfort blinds us to what is really happening. It is an act of love and an act of one who serves.

We change dirty diapers because we love our children, even when they are too young to understand and return that love. We sit with those who are dying, even when we ourselves are uncomfortable doing so, because we love.

I would like to imagine that when someone is chosen as a leader or elected as one, the first thing they would do would be to go and wash the feet of the poorest of their subjects or citizens.  The closest I can come is to think of the give-a-way, which in many Native American societies is what someone who attained a high honor would do; he or she would give away much of their wealth to the other members of the tribe. It reminded everyone they were part of a community that cared for each other; no one was above or below the need to give or receive.

For Peter it was not quite like that. He understood Jesus to be the Messiah, but he still did not quite grasp the nature of Messiahship.  Jesus is indeed lord, but to be lord meant to serve and not to be served.  This is what God is like.

Jesus puts on the servant’s attire and then asks his followers to come and have their feet washed. “Master you will never wash my feet.” Why did Peter initially refuse?  Did he feel that Jesus was once again not following the path Peter thought the Messiah would take? “Unless I wash your feet you have no share in me.”  Then he changes his mind after those words. Was it self-centered?  Peter could have been afraid of losing his position as #1 disciple, The Rock.  It would not have surprised me if that was exactly what he was thinking. But Peter’s thinking went deeper then that.  This was the most crititical time in his formation, as perhaps Holy Week should be for all of us. We are on a roller coaster, from the Palms to the Passion, from the foot washing to the cross.

Perhaps what Peter realized that night was that he was loved, loved so much that the one he called master would wash his feet, as Jesus had has his own feet anointed by Mary.

This is what God is like.  God is there to wash our feet. And through Jesus, we are shown what God is like and what God wants us to become. From the beginning, God meant for humans to be servants to one another. Not servants because one person is “better” than another or because there simply must be a hierarchy, but because if we really live our lives with love, we will pour out that love on one another, as we pour water from a pitcher to a basin.

Receive one another in love, as God receives us in love.

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