Perhaps it wasn’t until Jesus and his disciples sat down and the evening meal was being served that they noticed the unpleasant aroma of street and feet. I can imagine them all, tired from the day, edgy and irritated with each other, avoiding eye contact with Jesus. Let someone else do it. And someone else did.
Jesus got up, and desiring to show them the depth of his love, took off his outer garment and got a basin of water. I had always pictured a hush coming over the room at that point and each disciple quietly waiting their turn, but seventeenth century painter Dirck van Baburen didn’t see it that way.
In his scene, a cacophony erupts that sounds worse than their feet smell. An older disciple accuses a younger one of shirking his duty. A couple of the men lament, “How did we let this happen?” Peter argues with Jesus while Andrew interferes; Jesus argues back.
And who was going to wash their master’s feet? They likely debated about that, too.
Finally they settled down and returned to their cold dinner. Then Jesus stirred the pot again. “I have set an example for you that you should do as I have done for you,” he told them.
And how did they respond? Canadians know about using their inside voice in situations like this. But not one of the disciples was Canadian.
“I’m not washing John’s feet; he already thinks he’s so special.”
“I’m not doing it.”
“I’ll do it, and then I’ll wash my own.”
“You can’t wash your own, Doofus. Didn’t you hear what Jesus said? We need to take turns. I’ll draw up a roster.”
Maybe it didn’t happen like that. Maybe after they all got their feet washed and experienced Christ’s sacramental display of love, their hearts were humbled and transformed.
Maybe. Maybe not. Or maybe not completely.
Jesus, I am just like them. You washed my feet and that very night I argued with my brother, fell asleep when you asked me not to, betrayed and deserted you.
You knew that would happen, yet you washed our feet anyway.
O living flame of love
that tenderly wounds my soul
in its deepest center! Since
now you are not oppressive,
now consummate! if it be your will:
tear through the veil of this sweet encounter!
— “Living Flame of Love” by St. John of the Cross
Questions for your Lenten journey:
- How do you feel when you have had a sweet encounter with Jesus and yet fall back into old patterns of behaviour?
- What would it be like to believe that love did break through the veil and left a sweetness in your heart?