He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Love it to Death: The Washing of Feet

On Maundy Thursday, Catholic churches in many places around the world will reenact a part of the Last Supper that is not reenacted at every Mass as are many other parts.  At the Last Supper, Christ washed the feet of the Twelve, even the feet of the man who would betray Him.  He pointed out to them that he had done this as an example to them, providing a model for them to imitate.

Did he simply mean that they should occasionally wash each other's feet at the Seder?  No.  As usual, Jesus draws us through the viscerally physical into the spiritual, showing us how they are inextricably linked, just as He is both spirit and body inextricably bound up with one another.  In Christ, both the body and the spirit are transformed so that their full brilliance can be seen.

We are called by Christ to wash the feet of others, to lower ourselves to reach down to the part of them that is dirty and sweaty from walking and working, to cleanse the sores that have developed as they have labored and suffered, to care for the part of their body that has been worn down because it has born the weight of their physical existence.  We are called to wash their feet even though we are in authority over them, when God has given us gifts which they have not been given.  We are called to even wash the feet of those who are our enemies, those who would betray us for the most mercenary of reasons.

This washing of the feet is a reminder that we need to tend to the physical needs of others in tenderness and love, that what we do for His least brothers and sisters we do for Him.  It is also a model for the spiritual life that Christ calls us to as we follow Him in the path of love.  He calls us to lower ourselves in humility to reach out and care tenderly for the parts of our brothers and sisters that have gotten dirty from walking on the spiritual journey, from their labors of love for the sake of others.

He calls us to do so even when we are in authority over them, showing them by our loving service not only our love but also the love of Him who loved us unto death despite having the ultimate authority.  He calls us to reach out in tenderness and love even to those who harbor enmity toward us, those who have betrayed us, are betraying us, and will betray us because they value their own immediate pleasures over the greatest good of those they are called to love.

He calls us to leadership in the way that He leads us, by lovingly serving us and working for our good despite our betrayals, despite our lack of humility, despite our daily collection of dirt on our souls in each moment in which we neglect to treat His least brothers and sisters with the love He showed to us.  We are called to feed His lambs with bread and the Bread of Heaven, to visit them with encouragement and hope when they are in a prison and when they are imprisoned by the darkness of their own minds, to clothe their bodies when they are naked and to clothe their hearts in the warmth of our love when their hearts are chilled by the hate and condemnation of others.

In this way, we love to death our pride that strikes us like the Apostle Peter and causes us to cry out, "You will never wash my feet!"  We learn how good it is to be served by Christ when we practice serving others.  We understand how he gave His life for us when we give our lives for His least brothers and sisters.  We come to be willing to accept the gift of salvation through His suffering and death by our own suffering as we strive to bring His gifts to others.

As He tells Peter at the Last Supper that he must be willing to let his feet be washed by Christ or have no part in Him, we cannot partake of His divine life of love unless we are willing to accept His loving service, following His example and offering that loving service to others so that they might follow Him as well in rising to a new life, a life radically transformed by full participation in divine love.

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