I came home after a very tough day at work, to a beautiful Holy Thursday activity my wife had planned with our four kids. They made some unleavened bread, and after pulling it out of the oven, the kids (as if by some miracle), lined up on the sofa. They were barefoot and grinning.
It was my job to wash their feet. So I made my way through with a salad bowl of water and towel while my wife read bits of the Last Supper account. Then we ate the bread, which was surprisingly good. My daughters had formed all the bread pieces into little hearts before the baking. They had a good time.
Typical evenings with four little kids can be, shall we say, not always this bucolic. So this particular evening I was struck by the comment of Jesus: “Unless I wash your feet, you have no part with me.” All of a sudden, the thought hit me that maybe this foot washing routine was really about the first step to real communion with God.
First, we must let ourselves be loved. Without hearts broken by the vulnerability and unconditional love of God, how can we hope to love him in return, or share his love with others?
The image of Jesus washing donkey dung and mud off his apostles’ feet is so stark, but relatively common now in the imagination of our church. I think, though, that it is much more than just an example of a servant leader. I think Christ places an emphasis on the readiness to receive love immediately before the first Eucharist, to make this point abundantly clear. We are called first to accept the love of God, and sent out to be conduits and participants in divine love.
On the way to work I heard the following quote from Scripture from an audiobook by Father Richard Rohr, “The Divine Dance,” recommended to me by a dear friend, Sister Anne Donnigan R.S.M.:
“He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way — now that you have come to your servant.”
“Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”
So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.”
In Genesis 18 the Lord appears to Abraham in the form of three men. Some traditions read these individuals as angels, some as the persons of the Trinity. In this interaction, there is a reversal of the Last Supper.
Abraham recognizes, washes, and feeds God. At the Last Supper, Christ recognizes, washes, and feeds his apostles with his own body and blood. He offers us participation in the love of God in a new way. But the first step is accepting love. We’ve got to allow ourselves to be seen with dirty feet, and washed. To love gratuitously, we must first accept God’s gratuitous, kenotic love.
Being little kids, my children relished getting their feet washed by their dad. As grown ups, so many of us are far away from a relationship with God where we are immediately open to a love so startling and unconditional. But this is the openness Jesus needs to transform our hearts and lead us to himself.
Patrick Walsh manages Martha’s Choice Marketplace, a choice model food pantry at Catholic Social Services’ Montgomery County Family Service Center. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about Martha’s Choice, a beneficiary of the Catholic Charities Appeal, can be found at www.marthaschoicemarketplace.com.
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