I’ve become rather obsessed with walking. In the midst of the pandemic, there’s not much else to keep my body and mind moving, so I started walking, and reading about walking, and watching films about walking and even blogging about walking.
And, Lordy, my 52-year-old feet hurt! Every weekend I go out and walk 10- 20 kilometers, through the villages, parks and polders of Holland and even the first segments of the 500 kilometer Pieterpad! So, when my friend Linda invited me to share a reflection with my amazing church back home for Lent, I knew right away that I needed to write about Maundy Thursday.
“Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world … And during supper Jesus … got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 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. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ … After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. ….”. – (John 13:1-17)
I imagine being in that upper room, simmering with the sumptuous smell of food and the babble and buzz of my dearest companions, talking about the events of the past few weeks. Some conversations are boisterous with excitement, anticipating the Messiah’s triumph over the oppressive Empire. Other conversations are haunted whispers filled with fear about the rumors that His life – our lives – are in danger. I imagine sitting there, with my aching feet, cracked and worn from walking in and around dusty Jerusalem, with the other men and women who call Jesus rabbi, teacher – Lord. I can feel the confusion rise as I see him remove his outer robe, wrap a towel around his waist and approach one of my friends with a bowl of water. This is totally upside down – I should wash his feet!
Did you know that in the Gospel according to Luke there are three women named as disciples of Jesus? Three women identified by name: Mary, called Magdalene, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward, and Susanna, in addition to many others.
So when Jesus washed the feet of all the disciples, that means he quite likely washed the feet of the women in the room that night as well. If Peter was shocked at Jesus washing his feet, did he look away at the sight of his Messiah kneeling and taking in hand the naked foot of a woman? That foot is my foot and your foot – wholly loved and washed by Jesus in a vivid reversal of all that society tells us is the proper form of relationship and leadership.
When Jesus kneels and washes the feet of his companions, he is sharing an embodied parable about the extravagant love of God and the radical hospitality of God’s kingdom. It is a parable full of bodies, real flesh, touching and honoring real flesh.
And it is an invitation, a mandate in fact, to love one another and allow ourselves to be loved. It is the Gospel in the very real, fleshy world that we are called to participate in through acts of service and a posture of heart that renders everyone, everyone, everyone a beloved guest in the hands of a tender God.
“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” ― Teresa of Avila.