Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Would You Let Him Wash Your Feet?

  Several years ago a wonderful friend gave me the gift of a figurine depicting Jesus washing the feet of Peter.  It is on the top of my bookshelf along with some of my other religious objects.  I often look across my room and meditate on the meaning of this action performed by Jesus at the Last Supper  This is especially true during Holy Week.

   There is one moment in the telling of this story that often gets overlooked.  As Jesus approaches him, ready to wash his feet, Peter refuses.  Jesus responds by telling him, "Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me." (John 13,8)  Jesus, of course, does was his feet.

   What are we to learn from Peter's refusal?  There are lessons on several levels.

   We live in a society that overvalues self-sufficiency.  We tend to feel weak if we let someone help us.  While this applies to all of us it is especially true of men.  We need to be able to do it all, or so we think.  What we fail to appreciate is the difference between taking and receiving.  Taking from others is to assume power and control over them.  It leads to an attitude of entitlement.  Receiving is to take a position of humility.  It is to acknowledge and be grateful for a gift that is being offered.  Peter is initially practicing false humility.  He doesn't want to allow his Teacher and Master to perform such a menial task.  Jesus is offering a gift, a gift of love, which Peter receives.

   On a deeper level we need to understand the gift that is being offered.   Washing feel is a task that even slaves could refuse to do under Roman law.  When we re-enact the washing of feet in our parishes I am sure that all of the volunteers make sure that their feet are clean.  In Jesus' time people walked barefoot or in sandals.  Few people had boots and shoes.  With sharing the roadways with animals, and most roadways being made of dirt, you can imagine what a chore it wast o wash feet.

   This gesture by Jesus is what Pope Benedict XVI, in volume II of his Jesus of Nazareth trilogy calls a Sacramentum of Jesus' Passion and Death.  By this he does not mean that washing of the feet is an eight sacrament, but rather that it is a ritual playing out of what would happen to Jesus the next day.  In His Passion and Death Jesus is pouring out His love for all humanity.  He is stooping down to an entering the darkness and filth that is our sin and our suffering in order that all of that might be forgiven and healed.  That is what the dirt and filth on the muddied feet of the apostles represents.

    For us the challenge is to allow ourselves to receive this gift of total love from Jesus.  It is to admit at the same time that there is darkness within us and that we need this precious gift.

   Are we willing to let Him wash our feet?  At the end Jesus reminds us that we must do as He did. We cannot do that well if we are not first willing to receive from Him.



  1. This entry is a great insight into the nature of Holy Thursday.

  2. I was asked many years ago at Holy Ghost in Denver - I refused and somehow God changed my mind.