So now I am about to wash feet.
You know, one the the hardest things to do in a parish is to get people to have their feet washed. Most join their voices with the Prince of the Apostles and declare loudly: "You will never wash my feet!"
But the Lord is insistent. Why?
Especially by insisting on washing feet. One contemporary poet, in reflecting on bunioned arches, misshapen ingrown toes and anti-fungal creams laments that "All attempts to manicure and add polish do not help. Feet are ugly."
Which is precisely why Jesus chose to wash them with his own blood. For he died for us in our lowliness, redeemed us in our smelliness and despite the calluses and ugliness....he loved us unto death.
Saints Ambrose, Cyprian and Augustine are helpful here, reminding us that our feet are the lowest part of us, way down there, ever in contact with the dirt. That is why, after the fall of our first parents, the serpent continues to strike at our heals and those sad, overburdened feet are forced to bear the weight of everything we do in life, pressed deeper and deeper into the mud and the earth.
So feet, even in the writings of the Fathers, come quite naturally to symbolize our lower self, our sins and the really dirty things we do to soil our bodies and our souls. Thus Augustine sees the washing of feet before the Last Supper as Jesus’ way of lifting up to the Father that which is habitually at home in the lower regions of our lives.
And maybe that’s the reason it’s so hard to get people to have their feet washed. Ashamed that others will see how dirty they really are, they hide the smelly lower parts of under socks and shoes and the overly-long-cuffed pants. Like Adam and Eve, realizing they are naked, they cover ourselves.
But God, who sees all, sees even the dirtiest and smelliest parts of us. Jesus, kneeling in front of Peter, knows full well that the man whose foot he holds will soon fall asleep in the garden, deny him three times and run away when they nail him to the Cross.
And he sees us and our feet too. No matter how hard we try to hide it, he sees the filth, the sloth, the betrayal and the cowardice. And he longs to wash us clean, lest we eat or drink of him unworthily.”
That’s why since the Middle Ages, when the Pope washed the feet of twelve sub-deacons and thirteen poor men men, we have been observing this mandatum. For on this night, in the name of Christ, every priest needs to wash and each one of us need to be cleansed.