John 13:1-17, 31b-35
In Northern Ireland, there were three decades of deathly struggles between Catholics and Protestants. The Troubles, as the conflict was called, was both religious and political. Although the Good Friday Agreementin 1998 was to end the conflict, low-levels of violence and open wounds still exist. A community leader, Pádraig Ó Tuama, ministers to heal broken relationships between Irish Catholics and Protestants. Using an Irish idiom to talk about trust, he says, “You are the place where I stand on the day when my feet are sore.” He says, “It’s so physical, that beautiful understanding. You can find that with each other, even when you think different things.” To me, this says that when the foundation of my being hurts, and I cannot go another step, it’s good to be together, and to rest in our relationship. “You are the place where I stand on the day when my feet are sore.”
We come from a history of religious and political “troubles.” Jesus sparked an atmosphere that grew more tense the longer he was around. He threatened the established political hierarchy, social system, and economic structures. When the time drew near for Passover, people wondered if Jesus would show up at the Passover festival. “Keep an eye out so that we can arrest him,” the religious leaders plotted. Most recently, Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. Now the religious leaders wanted to kill both Jesus and Lazarus. Some people believed he was the Messiah, the one who came from God to save them from their oppression. Some didn’t. The struggle was a both political and religious.
It wasn’t only Jesus’ enemies speaking of his death. Jesus himself began talking about it, too. To say that Jesus’ healing and proclamation of love and God’s forgiveness brought misunderstanding is an understatement. Anger, even hatred, rumors and collusion permeated the air. Tension, and suspicion were at every turn. Where were truth and trust? Where do you stand when your feet are sore?
For over a century, people attended the churches in the St. Landry parish in southern Louisiana. Generations of families had made these predominantly black churches their spiritual home. About three weeks ago, over the course of ten days, three of the churches in this parish were destroyed by fires that were intentionally set. The 21 year-old man who destroyed the buildings was charged with hate crimes and arson. Parishioners have said that although their churches were destroyed, their spirit was not. Statistics show that most hate crimes in our country are committed by white people who are motivated by race, religion and sexual orientation.Where do you stand when your feet are sore?
Our “troubles” are also fueled by issues surrounding immigration, The organization Human Rights Firstcompleted a study of “the mental, physical, and legal impacts of massive overuse of immigration detention in California.” The report documents sexual assault complaints, verbal and physical abuse, lack of legal representation, lack of mental and physical healthcare, and poor detainment conditions.” Many people are held for years despite the fact that they“qualify for release under U.S. law, regulations, and other relevant criteria.” In addition to this, thousands more children were separated from their families than previously thought. It could take up to two more years for them to be identified and reunited. Where do you stand when your feet are sore?
Jesus and his disciples gathered privately for what would be their final meal together. Sitting around the table were Judas, who will soon betray him, and Peter, who will come to deny Jesus not just once, but 3 times. James and John, the ones who will be unable to keep watch or pray with Jesus in his dark hour were there, as well. They were sitting among others who will abandon Jesus at the cross. Though Jesus knows these things, the word we hear Jesus speak repeatedly in John’s gospel islove. He says this word 31 times in his Farewell Discourse.
As Jesus shares his last meal before his death, we are drawn back to the waters of baptism. During supper, after the meal had started, Jesus got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around his waist. He poured water into a bowl. and washed their feet, and then dried them with the towel, Judas, and Peter, and James and John, and the other disciples– no one was excluded from this radical act of love.
Peter was horrified. He couldn’t accept Jesus serving him, and refused to have his feet washed. Martin Luther posited that it is often our “righteousness” rather than our sin that gets in the way of our relationship with the Lord. Jesus explained that his relationship with Peter depended on servanthood. Peter, putting himself in charge– again, and not understanding– again, told Jesus to give him a bath. “Oh, Peter!” Jesus said, shaking his head. “You really don’t get it, do you? Trust me.”
Just like everything else Jesus did, he turned the custom of washing feet upside down. When guests came to a home, they had walked along dusty dirt roads. With sandaled feet, they walked the same dirt path that animals walked, and they stepped in what animals leave behind after digesting a hearty meal. When guests arrived, the dinner host had servants wash their dirty, tired feet before the meal. By washing the disciples’ feet, he demonstrated radical love that overcomes status and power. It upsets the imbalance of privilege. Jesus’ simple act of hospitality put relationships on the basis of equality and mutual respect. “Do this,” Jesus told them. Where do you stand when your feet are sore?
“I will give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” Jesus’ words are not just for the disciples around the table. They are for us, too. What makes this mandate to love one another newis its source, Jesus. Love them, Jesus says. Love the one who betrayed you. Love the denier, the self-centered and inattentive. Even love those who refuse to stand with you through the things that kill you. Love the black one, the brown one, the purple one, the Jewish one, the Muslim one, the atheist, the straight one, the gay one. Love them enough to wash their feet.
Where do you stand when your feet are sore? Stand with the One who will wash them. And then stay for dinner.
~Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin
On Being with Krista Tippett, https://onbeing.org/programs/padraig-o-tuama-belonging-creates-and-undoes-us/. Accessed April 12, 2019. Pádraig Ó Tuama is the community leader of Corrymeela, Northern Ireland’s oldest peace and reconciliation organization.
https://www.justice.gov/hatecrimes/hate-crime-statistics. Accessed April 17, 2019.
https://www.gcir.org/resources/prisons-and-punishment-immigration-detention-california. Accessed April 17, 2019.
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/06/us/family-separation-trump-administration.html. Accessed April 17, 2019.
Bruner, Frederick. The Gospel of John: A Commentary. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012. 767.