I’ve always been touched by the gospel on Holy Thursday and as I discern the deaconate, I’ve been told that the story of the disciples washing the feet of Jesus holds even more special meaning for them. It’s always been special to my wife and I because we believe it has been a remarkable symbol in our own marriage.
I’ll explain: It is easy to forget. I forget dozens of things: To unload the diswasher, to pick my clothes up off of my chair, to get milk on the way home, to return an email that I said I would to someone struggling with faith.
How people, my wife in particular puts up with me–I’ll never know.
But it seems to me that life is all about forgetting. Forgetting that mean comment that a friend said to me, letting go of those old hurts that we all like to hold on to, loving those who are hard to love by forgetting that they are annoying, or smelly and homeless.
John’s gospel makes the washing of the feet the central element of the last evening Jesus spends with his friends. He doesn’t mention the meal at all but rather that the greatest one of all–the man who was the only one worthy of being called a true friend–gets down and washes the filthy feet of his friends–the feet that walked the dusty and filthy open marketplace that was filled with animals, garbage and dust. Their sandals exposed their feet to all kinds of vile things. But Jesus gets down and washes their feet anyway. In as sense, he forgets about a lot of things here.
He forgets about his own pride, and takes the place of the lowest servant.
He forgets about his own future as he is fully aware of all that will happen to him.
And before it happens he forgets about his friends betrayal–for he knows who will betray him and he knows that the feet he is washing will run away and then fail to move in shame in that upper room.
And like the disciples I forget too. I forget that God cared enough about me to die for me–and yet I often think know a better way to happiness and turn to sin. I forget that great self-gift of God where he ransoms his son for our salvation and I think I deserve praise and adulation for doing so much less for my own friends and family. I forget about my neighbors whose names I often do not even know. I easily forget about those who are hungry even when they are in front of me daily on our city streets.
And to those who are close to me I often forget too. I forget to love my wife–ignoring her needs in favor of my own. Forgetting those household chores that I’d rather that she would do. Or even getting annoyed when she forgets things but not wanting to her her frustrations when I am at fault.
Each year, a parish I’ve been part of used to have the whole parish participate in the washing of the feet. My wife and I used to wash each other’s feet every year and I can think of no greater symbol for a married couple to do together. Married couples know all the little annoying things, all of the faults and weaknesses that their partner has–and yet, they love each other anyway. Eschewing their anger in favor of love.
They wash feet.
They know all the dirty filthiest parts of the other one–and they get down in the muck of it all and scrub away–forgetting about those hurts and moving towards healing, forgiving and serving each others needs. They strengthen each other for the journey of marriage that lies ahead despite the pain of the past–or the future for that matter.
This is the kind of love we all need to feel and to give to and from one another. It is the very love of God who all too often forgets things about us–our sins, our faults and gives us the chance to start over in the great sacrament of reconciliation which we all too easily avoid. We want to hold on to those dirty parts of oursleves because we are ashamed. Like Peter, we don’t want anyone to touch the filthiest parts of who we are.
But it is Jesus who gives us the example of love–the example that we need to follow that he reminids our forgetful selves that we must do as he has done. We need to serve the needs of others–to forget nobody. To touch all the dirty filthy parts of our world, of one another, even of our enemies.
We forget all too often…Jesus all too well-knowing of our sinfulness forgets it all over and over.
Perhaps that’s all we need to remember…and yet, how often we choose to forget.