Many years ago when I was in my early 30s, I received a phone call from our parish office asking if I would agree to have my feet washed at the Holy Thursday Mass. For those of you not familiar with the “Washing of the Feet”, it is a ritual reminding us of Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet when he was sharing his last meal with them, just prior to his death.
I accepted the invitation, but then went into a mild panic after I hung up the phone. You see, I have ugly feet, which I was often reminded of as a teenager. I was never able to wear the trendy shoes that my peers wore because I had to wear orthotics. And for some reason, back in the ’70s, school shoe designers must have had a pact to ensure that orthotic style shoes should look as hideous as possible! Thus, the idea of someone washing my feet made me cringe with embarrassment. I shared my concerns with my family and suggested that if I wore nail polish this would distract the priest from my ugly feet.
Vanity of vanities! My husband was appalled. “Who cares what your feet look like? The disciples’ feet were probably dirty, smelly and calloused. I’m sure the priest who washes your feet won’t care what your feet look like.” But I cared…..
When the big night arrived, the 12 people who had volunteered to have their feet washed came forward. We sat on chairs and removed our shoes. The priest then got down on his knees and with a jug of warm water, a bowl and a towel he gently began to wash our feet. But then, to my horror, I saw him tenderly kiss the foot of each person. Surely he was not going to kiss my feet!
I still remember the mish-mash of emotions going on inside my head and my stomach. I was feeling embarrassed and not deserving of such generous service. Did the disciples feel like me? How did Judas, the disciple who was to betray Christ, feel?
Reflecting on this story reminds me of how often my vanity gets in the way of seeing Christ in these sacred moments of being served, or prevents me from serving others. How often have I walked past the beggar in the street and not gone over and given a few dollars because I’m embarrassed someone might see me? How often have I failed to give to a charity because I don’t want people to think I’m a soft-touch? How often do I fail to ask for help for fear of losing my independence or admitting my own vulnerability?
How about you? Have you ever felt like you have missed out on an opportunity to serve, or be served, because you have let personal vanity get in the way?
Food for the Journey
The “Washing of the Feet” comes from the Gospel of John. If you have not heard the story before, then take a few minutes to read it now. If you don’t have a Bible, it’s easy to find via an internet search (type John 13:1-17).
We all have much to learn from Jesus’ actions in this story, especially those who have leadership roles, be that as a parent, in the community or in the workplace.
Here are some key words from this Gospel passage:
Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do, as I have done for you (John 13:14-16).
What can we take away from this episode in Jesus’ life?
- That to be a follower of Christ—a Christian—we need to be Christ-like and serve others.
- That our Church, and indeed the wider community, is weakened when we do not faithfully serve each other as Christ did.
- That true leadership is about service, not power.
- That what drives the positive things that the Catholic Church does is its call to be like Christ, and to serve. Think of St Vincent de Paul (Vinnies), hospitals, welfare agencies, aid to the most disadvantaged, education etc.
- And importantly, to serve whether we feel like it or not. Remember, Jesus washed the feet of Judas Iscariot, the person whose actions would lead to his crucifixion.
Finally, when we are on the receiving end of some good service, let us try not to get caught up in our own vanity, and graciously accept the compassion and kindness that comes from those who wish to serve like Christ.
Words: Sharon Brewer
Images: Feet – Fernando Pelaez Cubas, Unsplash
Washing of the Feet, Lightstock
This article is part of Faith Journey, a newsletter from the National Centre for Evangelisation.