Palm Sunday to Easter.
Each day this week, in this stay at home time, the pastor of the church I attend and I are recording reflections around events in the final week of Jesus’ life to share with the congregation. We are using images of frescoes painted by the Italian painter Giotto which are in a chapel in Padua, Italy as our jumping off point. Today’s image is of the fresco of Jesus washing the disciples feet.
And, here is my reflection…
The account of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet is found in the Gospel of John. The 13th chapter. Verses 1-13. It’s a longer narrative, but goes something like this:
As Jesus and the disciples were gathering to celebrate the Passover, Jesus poured water into a bowl. He then knelt before each of the disciples and washed their feet. When he is done, Jesus says this: “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 for you.”
As someone who has lived his entire life north of the Mason Dixon line and east of the Mississippi River, I have spent my entire life wearing shoes and walking on sidewalks. I washed my feet only when I took a shower. For the longest time, while I knew the story, I didn’t understand the importance or the meaning of Jesus washing the disciples feet. That changed for me about 15 years ago when I spent time in Nicaragua helping to build homes for families who lived in very substandard housing. Being close to the equator, Nicaragua is alway hot. And, being an underdeveloped country, the roads and paths where we worked were dirt and it was always dusty. After working all day in the heat and dust, I watched as the masons with whom I worked took off their shoes and sandals and put their feet in a bucket of water. When I followed their example I was amazed at how refreshing and renewing it felt.
So now back to the Gospel and to Peter and James and John and the other disciples in that upper room with Jesus. I am sure this was not the first time the disciples had washed their feet. I am sure, that at the end of of a long day of walking or working, they did the equivalent of putting their feet in a bucket of water, but I would bet it was the first time they had someone kneel in front of them, like a servant, and wash their feet for them.
Cool water. Strong hands. Washing and massaging away the dirt and the fatigue of the day.
Such luxury was known only by a select few.
Those in power.
Those with enough influence and money.
Those who owned servants.
Not the disciples.
The disciples were fishermen. Day laborers. Common. Poor.
Could it be that the example Jesus gives by washing the disciples feet is not just one of serving others, but of lifting people up? Treating those too often overlooked or looked down upon with a respect and a dignity usually reserved only for that select few? I wonder.
As those of us who have made the commitment to follow in the way and in the footsteps of Jesus, as we walk through these days of Holy Week towards the mystery and wonder and celebration of Easter, how is it that who we are and how we live and how we treat others lifts them up and affirms their dignity and recognizes and celebrates their worth? Extending our hands and reaching out our arms until all are…and know they are…included in the circle of God’s love.