It is easy to take people for granted. How often do we realize the value of friendship, love, or even mentorship, after a companion is gone? How often have I dismissed a person who challenged me, only to later recognize how impactful she or he was on my life? In this vein, I can only imagine how it was for the disciples after Jesus had died and rose. How difficult was it for Peter, Judas, or Mary Magdelane, the many men and women who broke bread with Jesus, witnessed his compassion for strangers, his humble dependence on Abba, to finally comprehend his actions and discover their master's true identity – a Christ known only by faith.
Tonight we commemorate Jesus’ last meal with his disciples, his last supper with those who would ransom, deny and abandon him. And just as Jesus celebrated with his friends, we too will wash feet. It’s a simple gesture, and for many of us it is an awkward gesture. For Christ, it was a humble service done in love; for Peter it was humiliating.
St. Peter’s reasons for not wanting his feet washed may have been different than yours or mine, but his objection resonates. A positive spin says that Peter knew he was unworthy, but another suggests that he was looking out for none other than number one. Peter knew that no King who washes feet has any glory to share, that no master who crawls on his knees has accolades to distribute, and a messiah does not wash feet -that’s what slaves do. As a self-respecting man, Peter knew darn well that he could never benefit from being the right hand, or wing man, so to speak, of a slave. In end Peter submits but only because Jesus insists, essentially humiliating the apostle. And perhaps it is fair to say that he knew his unworthiness. To what degree is another question.
In the letter to the Corinthians, the Lord’s last supper is recalled by St. Paul and the early Church. According to Scripture scholar James Dunn, Paul understood the Eucharist as two messages –one for the weak and another for the strong. For the strong, such is "a reminder that feasting together has an objective significance, while for weak Eucharist is the assurance that they indeed belong at God’s banquet." Weak and strong, wise and foolish, courageous and scared, rich and poor, Peter, Judas, and Mary, Christians are called to celebrate together and to serve one another - to make Christ visible by being ministers of presence to each other and the world.
The challenge to Jesus’ followers, in the gospel and today, is to do as he does. We are invited to appreciate his presence, to not take one another for granted, and to depend on strangers, even if we find all of this very humiliating.
In each and every Eucharist, we celebrate the mystery of God’s love for us and do consider the many ways to do as he does. Through faith might we also discover who Christ is, comprehend his actions and acknowledge his simple, yet sometimes humiliating, instructions: “Do as I have done to you” and “do so in memory of me”.