For St. Joseph's Morning Prayer today I had the privilege of reflecting on John 13:1-9:
You’ve got to love Peter. In one breath he goes from, “You will never wash my feet” to “Not only my feet but my hands and head as well!” Peter’s love for his teacher was so great, that we could read his initial refusal in two ways – perhaps he did not want Jesus to perform this lowly task of washing his sandy, dusty feet and drying them with a clean towel. Or perhaps, he was so confident in his faith that he did not see himself as needing this symbolic, ritual cleaning.
But when Jesus says he must submit to the ritual or risk his own salvation, he responds almost comically with “Not only my feet but my hands and head as well!” Is this hyperbole? Or is this Peter asking for the fullness of his Lord’s blessing so that his discipleship will be all-in? His feet might represent any weakness he still has in his attachment to earthly things; his hands perform works of compassionate service; and his head seeks to understand his faith in Jesus and all that Jesus asks of him.
Later in the passage Jesus explains that he has washed his disciples’ feet as a model of the kind of servant leadership he wants them to perform. Today we have the greatest example of that leadership so literally, so beautifully in Peter’s successor, our Vicar of Christ, Pope Francis, who offers his heart, his hands, his head in the service of others. This very day, Pope Francis washed the feet of men and women who are incarcerated in Rome. Prisoners, criminals, the lost, the forgotten, the unclean. You’ve got to love Pope Francis.
On this day when we remember the servant leadership of our Lord and Savior, we are vividly reminded that we too are called to this extreme kind of service. Pope Francis says that he does this because it is what Jesus taught us to do: to help one another, even when we don’t really want to. We serve others because it is our duty but a duty that comes from a clean and willing heart.
Today, we can reflect on the question Pope Francis asks:
“Am I really willing, willing to serve, to help others? Let us think about this,” he suggests, “just this.”
“Am I really willing, willing to serve, to help others?”