On Maundy Thursday, we remember Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. We also remember Peter’s resistance. “You will never wash my feet.” As the end is fast approaching, in John’s Gospel Jesus makes one last ditch effort to break through his disciples’ resistance to unconditional love. He washes their feet (John 13: 1-21). He does what slaves do. But Peter will have none of it: “You will never wash my feet.” Like us Peter is struggling to let go of his resistance to God’s extravagant love.
Have you ever seen someone who simply couldn’t take in an overwhelming amount of love? A year ago on the 20th anniversary of my wife’s ordination, I invited a handful of people who were at her ordination to surprise her with their presence at the Wednesday evening Eucharistic she was celebrating. When she got up to do the homily, I pre-empted her and began to tell her how much we loved her. As I spoke and everyone looked on, you could see her discomfort. Eventually, she cut me off and said “That’s quite enough.” Or in the Gospel metaphor, “Stop washing my feet!” We all do this in small ways. Someone thanks us for something we have done for them. Instead of just saying thank you and soaking it in, in our discomfort we slough it off and say “Don’t mention it,” and then change the subject.
We don’t easily receive such love, do we? It is so disarming. Even though we humans were brought into being by the extravagant generosity of God, we have become disconnected from our source and find it hard to keep receiving love so abundant and freely given. We just don’t believe we deserve it. Certainly there is something we need to do to deserve it, isn’t there? The kicker is this: “Unless I wash you,” says Jesus, “you have no share with me.” Unless you let my love into your heart—no strings attached—in spite of your betrayals and denials of me, there will be a barrier between you and me. Unless you let my love in, you will miss out on what life is all about. How tragic would that be?
Jesus also tells us one more thing: He tells us that our mission in the world is dependent on receiving this love. He needs us to wash one another’s feet as he has washed ours, and in doing so make him known to the world. But unless we let him wash us first, we will not be able to do this. Unless we are able to receive this free gift, our love for one another will not be freely given. It will be the kind of love that is manipulative, controlling, and filled with expectations. Rather than filling others with life, it will suck people dry. Such life denying “love” will not make Jesus known.
This is my “new commandment, says Jesus, “that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” The church’s mission is to make Jesus known to the world through the love we have for one another, a love we won’t be able to give unless we have received it first. Tonight’s foot washing service is our chance to let ourselves be loved absolutely. It is an occasion to stop resisting the one thing we most desperately need.