John 13:3-15 (CEB)
I’m a day behind in Holy Week, I know, but I have been wrestling in my mind for words to express this feeling I have about this foot-washing scene, unsuccessfully!
On Maundy Thursday many ministers and bishops and priests and people recognised in positions of christian leadership will make an attempt to imitate Christ in some kind of public setting. I have seen people do shoe-shine duty in shopping centres, others will wash feet at Maundy Thursday services – often joining with ecumenical colleagues in various states of embarassment and awkwardness about drying betwen the toes, some have washed hands in an effort to find a modern day Western-world equivalent to this old Middle Eastern custom.
This is ENTIRELY appropriate – please don’t read this as a criticism of any of that. Jesus quite clearly says “I have given you an example: Just as I have done, you also must do.”
But there’s more here.
Peter. Peter at first refuses.
I think this is significant. At first, Peter cannot accept this from Jesus. Peter’s response is that HE should be the one offering service – he should be the one to do the loving (if you like) – and Jesus should be the recipient.
Jesus says no.
This is the thing I am struggling to put into words – but I’ll try my best.
There is, I think, something important here about learning to receive love – specifically – learning to receive God’s love. There is something here about recognising that I am not the one DOING things for God – God is the one doing things for me. I am not the one loving or serving God – God is the one loving and serving me. I have nothing to offer God – God has everything to offer me.
There is a certain humility about accepting that you are not the one GIVING – but you are the one who is in need – you are the one RECEIVING.
When Peter realises this – he grasps it fully and says – not just my feet then – ALL OF ME!!
I imagine Jesus laughs with him.
Of course this isn’t the only lesson to learn… Mary “washes” Jesus’ feet with her tears… she has something to offer – but that offering is simple and honest gratitude for that which she has first been humble enough to receive.