Have you seen this painting? I’m sure most of you have, but for those of you who might have missed it, the painting is Leonardo de Vinci’s famous portrayal of what Christians call the Last Supper. This took place in an upper room in a large building. Now stay with me even if you don’t believe in God, or you pursue another faith, because it doesn’t matter. This very human story applies to all of us.
Let’s begin at the beginning…. what were Jesus and his disciples doing there? Jesus was a devout Jew and it was time to celebrate the Jewish Passover meal called a Seder. As the Leader of his Apostles he was the host for the commemoration and had insured all the preparations necessary for the meal were made.
Here’s where the story gets interesting. Middle Eastern hospitality during that time period required that guests were provided with a water basin and fresh towels to wash their feet before entering the house or building. Sounds a bit strange to us, but think about it for a minute. There were no paved streets and so the roads were either dust filled or muddy. Okay, not too bad, you say, but remember everyone wore sandal like footwear. Also, no sewers….so um, urine and feces, plus all types of animal dung were daily hazards. Pretty awful. Now the basins make sense. Of course the job of cleaning the mud and dung off people’s feet was usually given to the lowest slave.
So here we are, the twelve apostles have come to the upper room to celebrate a very holy meal with their Master, and what does He do?
“He got up from the supper table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his loins, poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel he had around him.”
Jesus dressed himself like a slave and cleaned the excrement off the feet of his guests. What a powerful image. Imagine Vladimir Putin or Queen Elizabeth or Jeff Bezos bringing in twelve people who work for them and seat them around a lavishly set table. Then imagine the three stripping off their finery and serving the meal. I’m not even talking about them washing their employees’ feet. Just serving the meal. The whole meal, from beginning to end without asking anything in return. Now, think about those three washing dried feces off twelve pairs of feet. Pretty hard to picture isn’t it. But that is precisely what happened. And if we think about it for a few minutes it becomes very humbling.
Remember Jesus washes Judas’ feet too knowing this man would betray him. Still he shows him love. We need to become feet washing people! Of course, this requires that we quit looking at ourselves first and seek out the moments to help wash the grime of life off those around us. I believe that if we all did a little less mud splashing and a little more foot washing, we would find more peace in ourselves and our world.