Friday, 25 March 2016

The Lent Project #8 The Strange Effect of Foot Washing

All over the Catholic online world, people were either shocked or excited about Pope Francis saying that women could be part of the liturgical foot-washing on Maundy Thursday (Mass of the Lord's Supper)- first day of the Easter Triduum. Some felt he was disgracing the tradition which was supposed to focus on the institution of the male priesthood, while others felt that he was focussing on the call to charity and humble service for all of us.

 Sometimes I feel like we miss the forest for all the trees.

In India, authority is often abused. I have come across many, many leaders who lord it over those under them. Authority is seen as a place of privilege, where one has won the right to be served. Very often leaders think it's okay to put down the people under them, to mock, to belittle. They think it is normal and expected for people to jump at their command, to be subservient, and keep their opinions to themselves.

Even in the more kindly of leaders, there is still a sense of standing upon their rights, of a boundary of 'This is my place, and I am graciously condescending to you from it, but please don't presume too far, or cross the line, or think that my familiarity means that I am really on the same level as you.'

Power corrupts so easily, it makes one feel like perhaps after all one IS God.

And how does GOD, the only true Authority in this world, use His authority? He bends down, giving up his privilege to take the most menial of tasks, washing the feet of the ones under him. We're so used to the story, it almost doesn't hit us.


But sometimes I think about it- I think about a Bishop sitting on the floor of a home in the slum and eating with the family. In India, that is a strange, strange thought. I think of a principal of a school playing hopscotch with the kids. Never! I think of a priest making and serving chai himself to the labourers in the church compound. I think of a rich woman hugging and eating with her maid. I'm telling you, these things don't happen in India.

People think that they will be taken advantage of if they don't push people around a little bit.

They forget that Jesus got taken advantage of a lot. And that He still calls us to be radically different from the world's way of doing things. He said- I came not to be served, but to serve. If I your teacher and master have done this for you, you also must go and do likewise. Can you imagine a world where a leader was a servant? Where Catholics were known for their humble service to the deserving and undeserving alike? Such a revolutionary idea could change hearts, could break barriers, could heal wounds.

I know, because it happened to me. At a retreat with the community I grew up with many years ago, we were encouraged to wash the feet of anyone the Lord led us to. It's not that difficult to wash the feet of someone you don't know at all. But I was at the retreat with my family, my siblings. The same ones with whom I've shared years of rivalry, competitiveness, one-up-man-ship, and egotism. None of us would ever admit we were wrong to each other. We would argue to the bitter end. And I, as one of the oldest, set the tone for sarcasm, mockery, and looking down on each other.

Not as bad as that, but still pretty bad

And then God called me to wash their feet. Oh, the painful humility. There is something VERY intimate and humbling in the act of washing the feet of another, especially when he or she is someone you have thought yourself better than. And it is just as painfully intimate and healing when someone who has hurt you washes your feet. It is the ultimate pride-killer. Tears flowed with the water, and SOMETHING changed that night. A healing began in the relationships between me and my siblings.

Jesus came to turn the values of the world upside down. But we can ignore it, or allow His action to profoundly change us, to re-orient our hearts.

Lenten challenge: Who are you in authority over? Can you choose a humble act of service to them? Perhaps even ask if you can wash their feet? What about someone in authority over you whom you resent? Someone you work with? A family member? Choose humility and love today.

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