Listen to the words of our gospel story:
“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, ”You will never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “UNLESS I WASH YOU, YOU HAVE NO SHARE WITH ME.”
Later, after Jesus had finished washing all the disciples feet he said 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 to you.”
We note that Jesus did not wash the disciples feet when they first arrived. Foot washing was very much a hospitable act of the day. The guest would arrive for dinner and their feet would be dusty and dirty from the day’s travel. Of course the host would not wash the guest’s feet, but a servant would do so. But Jesus takes this simple act and creates something different in its meaning. He waits until they are in the middle of their meal and then he stops eating and performs the task during the meal.
Jesus was drawing attention to something much more profound than just a gesture of hospitality.
When Jesus takes the feet of the disciples and lovingly cleans and dries them, it is an act of beautiful relationship. Jesus proclaims to each one, individually, that they are intimately connected with him.
When Jesus reaches Peter, he meets with resistance. Peter is not rebuked for refusing to wash someone’s feet. He is rebuked for refusing to let Jesus wash his feet. Peter expresses for many of us – that feeling of awkwardness in having someone else wash our feet. It is easier for us to wash someone else’s feet than to expose our own vulnerability by having another care tenderly for us. .
A couple of years ago, I was sitting outside a Catholic school waiting for my grandchildren to come out and I happened to notice a sign outside the church building. It read in Spanish: “Deja que Dios te ame! which translated means: ALLOW GOD TO LOVE YOU!!!!!!
Many of you know that this has become a phrase that I have taken to heart very personally and often use it in my own ministry to others -- the reason being that these words really are profound. If you were to put this into the first person you would say: Dejo que Dios te ami: meaning: I allow God to love me!!!!!
Think about this for a minute. We know that God is Love, but what would it mean to all of our lives if we truly could began each day by saying: I ALLOW GOD TO LOVE ME TODAY!!!!!!
Just this last week I was asked to pray for someone who is having a very difficult time. I had suggested that this person begin the day by saying I allow God to love me this day. The following morning I was asked – Just how do I go about allowing God to love me?
It made me pause for a moment and then I realized that the answer is PRACTICE!!! PRACTICE is how we learn to allow God go love us. Everyday, we have to practice surrender, we have to practice willingness, gratitude, openness, honesty, and trust! THAT’S HOW WE PRACTICE EACH DAY - ALLOWING GOD TO LOVE US.
I like the words of Jean Vanier from the l’Arche community in France living with those who are mentally challenged. He reminds us: “that Jesus came to bring good news to the poor, not to those who serve the poor.” AND WE ARE POOR – ALL OF US –IN NEED OF GOD’S LOVE. Vanier goes on to say: “I do not believe that we can truly enter into our own need for healing and open our hearts to others unless we have an experience of allowing God to touch us.”
Do you remember the beautiful lyrics of the Musical Les Miserables, based on the touching story of Jean Valjean set at the time of the French Revolution? Jean is finally released after being sent to prison for 19 years simply for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s child who was starving and close to death.
Finally NUMBER 24601 is released but still on probation and no matter where Valjean turns he is met with recrimination – given half the pay for the work he does, and finds every door closed to him as well as being refused a night’s sleep in a barn.
Then Jean Valjean sits down despairingly outside a house from which emerges the Bishop of Digne – who comes out and says to Valjean:
“Come in, Sir, for you are weary,
And the night is cold out there.
Though our lives are very humble
What we have, we have to share.
There is wine here to revive you
There is bread to make you strong.
There’s a bed to rest till morning,
Rest from pain, and rest from wrong.
When Valjean then steals the silver from the bishop’s house the next morning and is brought back by two constables, here is what the Bishop says:
“But my friend you left so early
Surely something slipped your mind.
You forgot I gave these also
Would you leave the best behind?
(And the bishop gives Valjean two silver candlesticks as well) The Bishop truly becomes an example of the Christ figure giving so much to wash away the pain and wrong from Valjean’s life!
And then the Bishop addresses Valjean one final time –
“But remember this, my brother,
See in this some higher plan,
You must use this precious silver,
To become an honest man.
By the witness of the martyrs,
By the Passion and the Blood,
God has raised you out of darkness,
I HAVE BOUGHT YOUR SOUL FOR GOD!!!!!
Like the Bishop of Digne – ready to follow the commandment of Jesus who says to each of us: “As I have washed your feet, so you are to wash one anothers’ feet”
Valjean has some of the same reaction that Peter had with feelings of unworthiness -- when the Bishop reaches out and ministers in love to him-- we hear Valjean saying to himself:
“Sweet Jesus, what have I done?
Become a thief in the night?
Become a dog on the run
And have I fallen so far
And is the hour so late
That nothing remains but the cry of my hate?
Yet why did I allow that man
To touch my soul and teach me love?
He treated me like any other
He gave me his trust
He called me brother
My life he claims for God above
The disciples are called to this foot washing to share in the relationship that Jesus and God have with one another. The foot washing becomes a symbol of hope to each one of us.
When we participate in this moment of the sacred we are experiencing God’s love for us through another as we allow our feet to be washed and we are at the same time called to take off our outer robe, wrap a towel around ourselves -- to minister to those in our community -- to share our hope with another.
When we come together on this night, we meet to remember Christ’s example of servant-hood by washing one another’s feet; in that remembrance He becomes present with us as surely as He is in the breaking of the bread! Washing away the pain and the wounds from each of us.
We will wash each other’s feet tonight, not because we want to pretend we are in the upper room two thousand years ago but rather because Jesus showed us that washing feet is what loving one another looks like and what allowing God to love us looks like.
God’s love is big enough to include the whole sorrowing, hurting world, but it is also exact enough to address each and every one of us personally and individually.
ALLOW GOD TO LOVE US –EACH OF US –THROUGH ONE ANOTHER. This must become our PRACTICE --Say to yourself as you prepare for this sacred time tonight: “I ALLOW GOD TO LOVE ME-- DEJO QUE DIOS TE AMI”!!!!!