I won’t lie. I’m not a big fan of the whole foot-washing thing. There’s just something about it that makes me feel weird. Maybe it’s my natural and growing-by-the-year introversion. Or, maybe it’s my . . . no, its the introversion. I’d rather it were something different, however. Something more thoughtful, something more theological, something more reasonable and even rational.
On second thought, however, I don’t know what gives me any reason to think that rationality should have anything to do with it. In the final accounting, there is absolutely nothing rational about the whole scene. Nothing really makes sense in the drama of the Last Supper, I don’t know why I think it should make any better sense to me.
Let’s look at the foot-washing in particular (there is, in fact equally much to be said about the super itself, but we’ll save that for another year). Where we (I) find the whole notion of washing feet to be strange, there will be many a sermon preached this evening tho suggest that such was a common practice in the ancient near-east. Hosts, or at least their servants of children washed the feet of guests regularly as a sign of hospitality. Sandals + dirt roads = perpetually dirty feet. Likely, people in Jesus’ time didn’t find the whole practice as off-putting as we do. True. But, that’s not to say that the disciples weren’t put off their guard as well.
Though “servant leadership” has become a bonafide principal both inside and outside the church in contemporary society, such was not the case in the time of Jesus. Patronage culture ruled the day and status was everything. So, while Peter might not have been grossed-out by someone touching his feet, he would have been downright scandalized by that someone being his superior. Such things just weren’t done.
We see, then, that Maundy Thursday provides a certain amount of scandal for everyone involved. No matter what your age or station in life, something just feels wrong. And that’s probably about right. One of the chief risks for those of us who have gone around the Holy Week block a few times is becoming too comfortable with the whole thing. Better for us to start the whole experience anew each year with a bit of discomfort. It brings the whole thing into the appropriate relief.