"Do you realize what I have done for you?"

"So when he had washed their feet and put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, 'Do you realize what I have done for you?
You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’  and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.
I have given you a model to follow,
so that as I have done for you, you should also do.'"
(John 13:12-15)

Today is Holy Thursday and, of course, the Gospel reading is from the Last Supper--specifically the institution of the mandatum, the washing of feet. After the washing is completed, Jesus asks the apostles: "Do you realize what I have done for you?"

Did they really realize it? Do we?

We hear this Gospel passage and we watch (or even participate) in the foot washing every year...but I wonder if we really take the time to reflect on how radical the implications of Lord's actions really are for our lives.

A Re-Definition of Power

Of course, we know that the foot washing is about service to others...that is the subject of, well, almost every Holy Thursday homily ever. But, being that it's Holy Thursday, the institution of the Eucharist and the birth of the New Testament priesthood are also in there, too. So, often the subject of the foot washing gets passed over pretty quickly on the way to those other things (and they are extremely important for obvious reasons!)

Today, though, let's take some time process what we are seeing in this Gospel.

For us, foot washing is a unfamiliar and uncomfortable experience. It was uncomfortable for the apostles in this case, too...but it wasn't unfamiliar.

Imagine what it was like to walk around 2000 years ago in Jerusalem in sandals. By the end of the day your feet would be covered with dirt and grime. So it was a common sign of hospitality for a good host to make arrangements to have the guest's feet cleaned.

The job was delegated to the lowest gentile slave. Generally even Jewish slaves weren't expected to do something as debasing as washing someone else's feet. Certainly no one aspired to be a foot washer!

On the contrary, people in the first century generally aspired to the same things that we do in the 21st century: to be wealthy and powerful. That was true even among people that never had any hope of wealth or power--just as it is today.

The dream of being a big shot. Having real power and authority. Someone with the means to have people around who can do the foot washing for you.

Jesus turns that all on its head when he throws the towel over his shoulder and begins to wash the apostles' feet. In a single stroke Jesus has re-defined what power and glory mean.

God with a Washcloth

We believe that Jesus is the second person of the Blessed Trinity: God himself. Though the apostles probably wouldn't have phrased it that way in their moment of history, they certainly knew that Jesus was no mere man. He had performed many signs, culminating in John's Gospel with the raising of Lazarus. He had, through his I AM statements, clearly claimed to be God and, with the possible exception of Judas, the apostles believed it.

Here was God with a washcloth, cleaning their feet.

It doesn't just mean that we need to go out and help others. It means that we were all completely, 100% wrong the whole time about what power and glory really are. It is an indication that the world's values are 180 degrees out of phase with God's values.

The sad part: after 2000 years of Christianity, it hasn't changed.

Most people still dream of winning the lottery. They keep up with the Kardashians and watch shows about real-estate they will never afford. They dreams great dreams about a day when they will 'make it big'.

It's all a lie. A horrible, sad lie.

This is what the Lord is really trying to tell us with the mandatum. He wants us to give up the lie and embrace the truth in all its gritty reality: There is no power or glory outside of love--everything else is empty.

The apostles tried it and 11 of them went on to conquer Rome, the greatest empire the world has ever known, with their faith. What would happen if only a few of us did?

With just a handful you could transform your parish, your town...even the entire world.

As the Catholic author G.K. Chesterton wrote:
"The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried."
Of course, Chesterton knew he was being a little hyperbolic for effect. The Christian ideal exemplified in the washing of feet has been tried...by the saints. They found it very effective.

The question is: are we willing to try it, too?

Will we surrender our pipe dreams of fame and fortune? Will we stop rationalizing that the cult of power and wealth is somehow consistent with Jesus on his knees washing the muck from his betrayer's feet? Are we willing to start judging our ideologies and preferences by the light of the Gospel instead of the other way around?

God knows that a few will...and those few will change everything.

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