“Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil
made from genuine aromatic nard
and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair…”
“(Jesus) rose from the supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist.”
I’m not sure if I missed this before, but today I had a real Eureka! moment connecting the dots of these two Holy Week Gospels. The first reading takes place six days before the Passover (John 12:1). Jesus was on the receiving end of the love ritual he would pass on to his disciples at the Last Supper a few days later. Mary, the woman at his feet, was anointing them with expensive oil and drying them with her hair. Jesus’ disciples scoffed at this, but, ironically, they would be on the receiving end of this very love ritual later in the week. There is so much treasure to be found in these stories…
I have been blessed to be on the receiving end of a foot washing ceremony a couple of times. It is humbling, to be sure; somewhat awkward and uncomfortable. Where do I look? Do I say “thank you” or anything? How am I supposed to receive this? In my discomfort, I squirm a bit in my seat, looking forward to the ritual being over. It’s just too hard to be the receiver! Jesus doesn’t seem to mind the woman anointing his feet at all. He defends her to the tsk-tsking disciples. He appreciates her gesture, seeing it exactly for what it is—an act of pure love. But it may be hard being on the receiving end and we may get so caught up in that aspect, we miss the real love message. We wind around our own axle about how we’re feeling and may miss what is so much bigger. Love can be so hard to explain, sometimes it may be easier just to show it in action.
In Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, I see such an act of humility and service–Jesus down on his knees, washing the road grime off of the lowliest part of the human body. Jesus came to touch and nourish the hearts of humans, but he chose to show that by washing feet, which he had done for him just a few days before. The distance between the heart and feet can be quite far, depending on how tall a person is, but Jesus had experienced the love of the gesture traveling from his feet to his heart. What is it in receiving this humble act of service that changes our hearts? For it surely does. Well, there is real vulnerability in having someone washing your feet. You need to trust them. And there is intimacy and relationship. All of this asks us to step out of ourselves and open up to another. Looking into the eyes of someone washing our feet tweaks the heart like nothing else. Our hearts can be opened wide as someone gently washes our feet.
Jesus received the loving washing of his feet from Mary and then he shared the deep experience with his disciples. Some of them felt uncomfortable with the whole thing, too. Peter initially questioned Jesus washing his feet (John 13:6) and Jesus seemed to understand his reluctance. Jesus said, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will understand later.” (v.7) Jesus is right. It may be hard to understand how a loving gesture to your feet can actually touch and open your heart.
After Jesus finishes washing the disciples’ feet he asks them, “Do you realize what I have done for you?” (v.12) And then the crux of the whole deal, “If I therefore, the master and teacher have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.” (v.14) There it is. Love received is love shared. What you have had done for you, you do for others. What you have received, you give away. We are asked to be loving and open to others, to share in their difficulties and help as we can. These beautiful Gospel stories show us a circle of love—love given, love received, and love given again. It may be hard to explain in words, but it shows beautifully in actions. In the simple action of washing another’s feet and letting them wash ours.
Loving Jesus, thank you for showing us how to love others. Help us to be humble, trusting, compassionate and kind so our actions to others speak of your love for us all. Amen.