In the time of Jesus, washing feet was a filthy job. It was the lowest job that anyone could have, so low that even some servants would refuse to do it--leaving the job to those who were new on the job. The disciples in today's gospel's instance, wore sandals exposing their feet to the dust of the road but more than that...
The marketplace was an area where livestock roamed so animal waste was plentiful and anyone walking through the marketplace really couldn't avoid it. And because Jesus's disciples were about to recline together at table...feet needed to be washed as they would lie in close proximity to the table and to one another.
And Jesus washes these filthy, stinky feet.
Simon Peter will have none of it. The one who is master and Lord, the one we call teacher, the one who is the Son of God is going to wash my FEET? No way. There is a big elephant in the room and Peter is the only one who has the guts to point it out. And who can blame him? Some disciples maybe even breathed a sigh of relief that he did this.
I think I'd be a lot like Peter. Because my feet get me into lots of trouble. They take me to plenty of places that I shouldn't go. I walk past the homeless each day on my way to work ignoring their needs most of the time. My feet won't stay still when I need to sit by my parent's bedside as their medical problems worsen in their old age. And when my wife needs someone to listen to her when she's upset my feet can find plenty of things to walk to instead.
Feet are indeed troublesome for us all.
One Holy Thursday my parish invited us to wash each other's feet after a select group had been washed by the pastor. One of the more moving moments in my life was when my wife washed my feet. Why? Well Marion, my wife, knows me better than anybody else. She knows all of my faults and insecurities. She knows that I'm grumpy in the morning and short-tempered at times. She knows I'm far from perfect and yet she loves me anyway--and sometimes I wonder why she does? And she knows that we can't make a baby together either. We've been through a lot in our marriage together and will continue to go through a lot over our married life. And she also knows that I have stinky feet.
And because of all that, the fact that Marion can get down and washes my feet--and I hers says something much deeper. And when she stoops to wash them she says to me: "OK Mike, I know you are not perfect, but if I can do this...if I can get down and do something as vile as washing these feet of yours--I know we can make it through just about anything in our marriage together." And I am called to do the same for her.
Jesus knows all about these feet too. Peter doesn't want these feet of his washed because he knows they are dirty. What's more is that he knows that there are a lot of filthy parts of himself. And he doesn't want Jesus to know much less, touch any part of them. But the point of most of John's gospel is that Jesus is in complete control and knows what is about to befall him. What is remarkable is that these feet of these so-called friends of his will run at the first sign of trouble.
No matter who we are...we all have stinky feet from time to time. Whether we wear Prada shoes or flip flops--the filth of our lives is something that we all know is present. We sin. And it is filthy.
And Jesus knows it. And yet...he gets down and washes their feet anyway. There was only one man who was worthy enough to be served that night--and he was the one who washes feet.
But like Peter, we don't think we deserve to be washed clean. We think that God couldn't really want to and really shouldn't be anywhere near the most filthy parts of ourselves.
And yet, here is Jesus not only stooping down to wash our feet but he seems at ease with doing so.
God doesn't forgive our sins against our will. No, it is up to us to let Jesus touch those intimate parts of ourselves--to face what needs cleaning and to let the water wash us clean. It reminds us of our baptism and calls us to the Eucharist.
Admitting that we have stinky feet, doesn't keep us guilty or even make us feel like horrible people. Our stinky feet simply remind us that we need God--that we're not perfect, that we all have Busted Halos.
This night, I pray that you, like Peter can let Jesus stoop down to touch those deep wounds that you have suffered.
"Not only my feet Lord, but my hands and my head as well."
Your humble blogger is Mike Hayes, a well-known expert in the world of young adult ministry (20s and 30s) in the Catholic Church. Mike is the author of Googling God (Paulist, 2007) where he explores both the chaotic world that young people live in and their religious reactions to that world. He also explores the age of instant gratification and how churches can respond to the needs of the young adult age by using technology alongside more traditional ministry methods.
Mike founded the award winning BustedHalo.com® in 2001 and continues to contribute to it as the editor of their catechetical section appropriately named Googling God.
Recently, he left BustedHalo® to focus on more direct ministry with young people at St Joseph University Parish as a Campus Minister for the South Campus at the University at Buffalo.
He has only two loves: his adorable wife, Marion and a nine pound chihuahua named Haze, who still find him amusing enough to let them live in their home.