The early church was stupefied by the bar that Jesus set for the rest of us.  Look at this scene.  First of all, he is acting like a common servant, rather than lording it over everyone.   He is addressing their needs.  In a world where the strong are always taking advantage of the weak, the important exercise their privileges over the marginalized—Jesus who is Teacher and Lord attends to their most basic needs like a simple servant.  But it gets better and better as the onion skin layers are peeled back on this one.

Secondly, not only was Jesus refusing to dominate, he was washing the feet of Peter, in whom he had invested so much and who was about to disown him to save his own hide.  Peter’s subsequent behavior was the opposite of “I’ve got your back,” which is what he promised to Jesus.  He was incapable of being his best self.  He caved.  And then Judas.  He was willing to make money off of Jesus’ capture.  Don’t you just want to step in the scene and say, “You total scum bag!  You are not worth the space you are taking up!”  But Jesus washed his feet!  Who can do this?  Who can love like this? 

Are We Supposed to Do This?

Then, it’s amazing enough that Jesus would be capable of this, but does he expect us to love like that?  Well, in fact, Jesus makes it clear in this painting by John that he is intentionally setting an example, a bar to be lived up to.  Whew!  Who can do this?  Paul in his letter to the Romans reflects on this bar (Romans 5:8).    Paul says he could understand dying for a good person, but giving your life for a certifiable scumbag? “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners, Christ died for us.”  Who could imitate this kind of love?  This is awesome that Jesus could do it, but how could I ever?!

Stage One

There was a Rwandan woman named Iphigenia from the Tutsi tribe (during the Rwandan genocide of 1994).  Her husband and five children were clubbed and hacked to death by Hutus, including one of her neighbors.  Her neighbor.  This convicted neighbor asked for forgiveness at a tribal court after seven years of imprisonment.  Stage one of moving toward the bar: Iphigenia opened her heart and extended forgiveness. 

Stages Two and Three

Iphigenia was a master weaver and later opened her heart wider and (stage two) taught this same neighbor’s wife how to weave baskets.  The two became friends and even business partners.

The reporter who recounted this story, Christiane Amanpour, tells the us that on the day Christiane went to interview Iphigenia, she had opened her heart even wider still—stage three.  Christiane witnessed her serving dinner to the husband of her business partner who had once brutally murdered her husband and children.  She was serving the way Jesus had served; and, like Jesus, she was serving the “undeserving.”

We Can’t Do This…Alone

When asked how she was able to forgive, she said, “I am a Christian, and I pray a lot.”  Part of our heritage as Christians is that we believe we are not alone when we assemble for the Eucharist.  There is always a Mysterious Guest in our assemblies who is in fact washing our feet when we least deserve it and modelling for us how it should be with us when we walk out of the assembly.  It is an impossible bar to reach for alone, but we are not alone in the task.  For those who want to learn the depths of love, follow him…and her.

Sts. Clare & Francis (Eucharist held at St. Stanislaus)
Holy Thursday, 2014
Focus text: John 13:1-35

Photo by John Ragai on

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