In the gospel for the evening Mass of the Last Supper, we hear that just before his betrayal, Jesus washes his friends’ feet. We reenact the foot washing during the Holy Thursday celebration as a reminder of how we are called to serve each other.
I’ve never seen someone with really nasty feet get their feet washed during Mass. Most Masses either pre-inform their selected 12 or invite whoever feels comfortable to come forward to a station to have their feet washed. This means that people either have enough warning to make their feet presentable— I’m thinking of my mother, who got a pedicure before she got her feet washed— or they can choose whether their feet are clean enough to be washed by someone else.
The feet that Jesus washed were probably more like the feet that this gentleman washes: filthy, sore, and maybe even infected.
But let’s face it, at the Holy Thursday liturgy, nobody’s feet are really all that dirty, and there’s hardly much real washing that happens. Even with the chance to sterilize their feet before they’re washed, most people (myself included) still prefer not to participate.
If given the choice to be the washer or washee, I’d pick washer every time. I’m not huge on touching people’s feet, but I’d suck it up and wash feet rather than let my own feet be washed.
The same is true in daily life. I’m much more comfortable (as most people are) doing and helping than receiving.
When I hear the foot washing gospel, my initial reaction is to think I’m not serving whole heartedly enough and that there’s much more I can be doing in my life. While this is true, I’m a doer, who interprets the reading as a doer would.
A dear mentor and friend always used to remind me gently that, “We don’t see things the way they are, we see things the way we are.” On my first read of the feet washing narrative, when I respond by thinking that I need to get out and do something, I’m seeing things the way that I am.
As I sit with the reading for longer, I realize that for me, the more challenging message is that to allow my own feet to be washed is to serve.
There are many ways I refuse to let my feet be washed. When I take too much on, don’t allow a healthy vulnerability with others, or am not up front about my preferences— I refuse to let my feet be washed.
These types of behaviors often seem heroic or Jesus-like. They might even seem like examples of how I wash others’ feet.
When I sit quietly, I can discern the difference between true foot washing and moments when I’m more like Peter, who responds to Jesus’ invitation by refusing to let his feet be washed.
What does it look like, in daily life, to allow others to wash our feet?