Wednesday 16 April 2014

Wash This, but Don't Wash That

By Edmund Lo, S.J.

One of the many headline-makers of Pope Francis was the foot-washing ceremony from last year's Holy Week. It looks like he will continue the tradition this year, as well. It is a pity that we couldn't get past the obvious, that women's or a Muslim's feet were washed. The fact is that the act of washing the feet of another is radical in itself.

As we know, the washing of feet was the servant's job during the time of Jesus. A master is not to do a servant's job, but Jesus shattered this conception. Nowadays, we may praise someone for his willingness to humbly serve others through such an act. We may even engage in such an act ourselves. But the danger exists of a hidden unwillingness to serve in ways I feel uncomfortable with. I may wash the feet of others in a specific ceremony because it is powerfully symbolic, but I may remain unwilling to step outside of my comfort zone to serve others in things great and small. When this happens, integrity is lacking, and the washing of the feet can be relegated to a mere pious show.

The key issue here is not so much that Jesus washes the feet of others, and that we must imitate this inspiring act. Rather, it is to allow Jesus to wash our feet. Gritting our teeth to do some dirty chores in order to build character is easy; allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and be served can be much more difficult. This was so even with the apostles, as Peter essentially flipped out when Jesus wanted to wash his feet. Peter did not think that he was worthy enough. He did not want to expose his insecurities and vulnerabilities to the Lord.

We are the same as Peter. We do not wish to face the Lord in our insecurities and vulnerabilities. We have judged ourselves before the Lord has even said a word. This is the true tragedy of our time: we are not allowed to appear vulnerable in front of others. Even the best of us feel insecure and vulnerable in one way or another. This is the same when it comes to our relationship with the Lord. Many of us waste our time to appear perfect in front of the Lord, and subsequently fail to establish a personal and trusting relationship with our Saviour. This can happen both in prayer and in situations where we encounter the least of our brethren, the ones out of whom Christ promises to show his face.

In truth, neither Peter nor we are worthy of God’s ministrations from an objective viewpoint, and on our own we would never be truly ready to approach the Lord. But our worthiness does not rest on personal merits, but rather comes from the unconditional love of God; despite our imperfections and faults, we are accepted and loved. This is the foundation of the washing of others' feet. It is not up to us; it is up to God to show us this.

We cannot give what we do not have. If we have not experienced this boundless mercy of God, we will not have the gratitude or magnanimity to give ourselves to others. More importantly, if we refuse to personally accept the unconditional love of God, we simply cannot freely give ourselves to love and service. We need to stop judging the filthiness of our feet and allow Jesus to wash them, or else we would never get over the filthiness of the feet of others. Therefore, let this upcoming Maundy Thursday be a point of reflection for us: how much am I allowing the Lord to wash my feet?

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