Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
"Do you realize what I’ve done for you? "If I 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."
There is an old saying "familiarity breeds contempt." But I think that often when it comes to scripture, a better way to phrase this would be "familiarity breeds complacency."
We have all heard many times the story told in today’s Gospel. As a young man serving Mass I even had one of my feet washed by the bishop. And so sometimes when I hear this story I find myself tempted to say inwardly "Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard it before. I have to humble myself. Let’s go on to the next lesson."
But pause with me here for a moment, and let’s consider what’s really happening in this story. The disciples still believe that the Messiah is the one who is going to restore their nation’s former glory. The Christ will be the warrior king who drives out the Romans, unites the Hebrew people and establishes Israel as a beacon for all nations. And yet they find themselves in an upper room with the man they believe to be that Messiah and he strips himself naked, wraps a towel around his waist, kneels down before them and begins to wash their feet like a slave. And what’s more, from our perspective 2000 years later, we see that Jesus already knows that among these people whose feet he is washing is the one who will betray him, the one who will deny him, men who have bickered about who is greater and who will sit his left hand and his right hand. He has repeatedly asked them, "Don’t you get it yet? After all the time I’ve been with you?"
And he still kneels before them and washes their feet.
It is easy for us to look back and chuckle at the disciples who didn’t get it. And yet don’t we still find ourselves looking for that "messiah" who will establish our version of the kingdom of heaven on earth? Don’t we look for that pastor who will save us by truly honoring the spirit of Vatican II or faithfully upholding the Orthodox tradition as presented by the Magisterium? Don’t we campaign for that candidate who will restore our nation to its former greatness by promoting social justice or preserving religious freedom or maintaining 2nd amendment rights while fixing the economy with just the right mix (in our minds) of taxation and spending?
Jesus said, "You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am." He acknowledges that He is our master, and still, He kneels before us.
This Triduum I pray that I let the words of Jesus deeply affect me, that instead of looking for a "savior" out there, I follow the model of the Savior I carry in my heart and kneel before and wash the feet of those I encounter every day.
Talib Huff is a volunteer at Christ the King Passionist Retreat Center in Citrus Heights, California.