I think most of us are familiar with the account of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper.
On the night before he knew he faced suffering and death the next day, what was the last message Jesus wanted to leave with his disciples? It set the example for sacrificial service of others.
What do you and I do when we run into a crisis in our lives? We become very self-centered. We cannot even truly see or hear others as we are absorbed with our own anxiety, hurt, loss, disappointment, anger and often blinding self-righteousness.
As time goes by, we can become more and more cut off from those around us. Jesus gave us a New Commandment: “Even as I have loved you, so you should love one another.” How did he love us? He washed dirty feet and died for the very same people who rejected him and called for his death.
So, what does it mean to love one another?
If we follow Jesus’ example, we willingly accept the role of servant, the one who kneels on the floor to wash the dirty feet of another. We will also assume the role of the disciple who lets himself or herself be cared for.
This is hard stuff, probably the hardest stuff in the world — which is why we see so little of it in action. If we love one another as Jesus loves us, we must be ready to put aside our grudges, resentments, hurts and self-righteous anger.
To be honest, I often tend to love with my fingers crossed behind my back. I am ready to love almost everyone; but surely, I can’t be expected to love the person who has hurt me, or does not wish me well, or who seems hopelessly wrong about everything I believe.
Surely, I am allowed one holdout, one exception, just one person whom I can judge to not be worthy of my love. But the Commandment has none of those loopholes we love. It instead demands that we let go of our pet hates, the ones we clutch like a child clutches a teddy bear.
In his historical novel, “Ah, But Your Land is Beautiful,” Alan Patton told the true story of a white South African judge named Jan Oliver. A black pastor invited him to attend his church on Maundy Thursday, the day for the traditional reenactment of foot washing. Given the facts of apartheid, the judge would be risking his career if he went, but meaning to be a good man, he accepted the invitation.
Oliver was urged to participate in the service and was called forward to wash the feet of a woman named Martha Fortuin, who as it happened, had been a servant in his house for 30 years. Kneeling by her feet, Oliver was struck by how weary they looked from so many years of serving him.
Greatly moved, he held her feet with gentle hands and kissed them as tears ran down his cheeks. Martha also began weeping, as did many others in the church. The newspapers got wind of it and Oliver lost his political career. Maybe he found his soul.
How many lives were changed that day as they watched that simple act of humility, love and service? Perhaps such a radical act is not something you and I can imagine for ourselves, but why does it move us so much? It is because we are seeing the most powerful life-changing force on earth in action.
Can we allow what this touches in each of us to move us to become more aware of the power we have to change the world in some small way, and then to do it?