Off the Wall 11/6/2014
Last week I had the opportunity to travel to Nadi to meet a group of mothers and grandmothers from around the Pacific. These women were the Pacific Committee for the World Day of Prayer. The World Day of Prayer is held on the first Friday of March every year in Christian communities around the world. Originally known as the “Women’s Day of Prayer” the movement is more inclusive to men and children as a way of getting whole communities to gather in reflection, meditation and prayer on a particular theme which, while base on the Bible, has a social aspect to it as well.
This year’s theme was “Streams in the Desert” and prepared by the women of Egypt who are going through a difficult and often violent political crisis, which was originally part of the “Arab Spring”. The focus of last week’s meeting, however, was on next year’s programme. The2015 World Day of Prayer material has been prepared by the women of the Bahamas in the Caribbean. The theme of 2015’s World Day of Prayer is, “Do You Know What I have done to you?” This is based on Jesus question to his disciples after washing their feet. For those not familiar with the Bible story, the gospel according to John 13:1-17 narrates the event of Jesus’ washing of his disciples feet, including Judas who would later betray him and Peter who would deny him. This ritual is a common sight in churches on Maundy Thursday, the evening before Good Friday at Easter.
My task was to facilitate two bible studies on this theme, “Do You Know What I have done to you?” I chose to express the theme in the following manner, “Lessons in the Transforming Power of Radical Love”.
Reflecting on the act of the washing of feet, who’s feet would you wash? Someone you love – maybe? Someone respect – possibly? How about someone who you have never met before? Someone who makes you uncomfortable – possibly because their feet are dirty, stinky, or deformed? How about someone whom you distrusted or feared?
Foot-washing was not merely a ceremonial custom. It was practically important because people walked through dusty and manure-filled streets with sandals. Your feet got dirty and stinky. It was the custom to have a slave at the door when they invited people over and as the people arrived they would, since they were wearing generally sandals, they would stop and take off their sandals, they would have the slave wash their feet. As one of the most demeaning tasks, it was reserved for household slaves
As the disciples walked in, Jesus took upon himself the form of a servant, and began to wash their feet. Showing them the value of love, showing them the importance of giving to others, and showing them the necessity to put others above ourselves. They were being told to cast aside societal and cultural mind-sets of hierarchy and serve others.
Can you imagine what this world would be like if we all did that? Instead of anger there was forgiveness, instead of grumbling there was gentleness, instead of a thirst for power and control there was trust. What would our community, our country, this world look like if we simply “washed each other’s feet”?
Sometimes we forget that Jesus challenged the ritual purity and thus the status quo of Jewish society Jewish society – holiness that was based on a purity system that was not just religious and social but also both political and economic in nature. Jesus’ call for a shift in social paradigms or to change the social vision was not only a call to compassion but a radical challenge of the dominant social, political and economic systems of his time. The actions of healing, physical contact with impure, unclean and therefore sinful people, places and even animals and, table fellowship – the open and inclusive table that through mutual acceptance embodied Jesus’ radical social vision and challenged the purity system and all that it represented, with an atmosphere of celebration.
Recently, as part of the Methodist Church in Fiji’s Golden Jubilee celebrations, many Methodists in their local communities and at divisional level have used the ritual of the washing of the feet as a form of reconciliation and renewal. Being fortunate to both experience this and observe it practice, one can often witness the catharsis that takes place during a feet-washing ritual. Catharsis means “the act of expressing, or more accurately, experiencing the deep emotions often associated with events in the individual's past which had originally been repressed or ignored, and had never been adequately addressed or experienced.”
This story challenges us to practice mutual love, which involves a discipline of openness and honesty, empathetic listening, personal vulnerability, and willingness to change - a love which is freely giving and forgiving, a love that opens one’s table to all, a love that requires us to walk in righteousness, along the paths of justice.
Something happened to those who were cared for by Jesus with such unconditional love. In his presence, the unworthy were deemed worthy, the unvalued were valued, the discarded and forgotten were reclaimed and celebrated. Their lives were transformed.
In a time and world where love can be reduced to a transaction, unconditional radical humble love can break barriers, heal souls and empower those who have lost or surrendered their own power.
Each one of us is challenged to do much more than understand and recognise this kind of love. We are challenged to practice it.
“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”