Bathed In Love

feet washing





JOHN 13:1-11



I wouldn’t recommend living in a historic monastery for a year. Not unless you are called to do so. People look at you funny when you try to explain what an ecumenical retreat center is and why anyone would choose to live in close proximity with fifteen other people. Praying three times a day and washing countless dishes doesn’t really sound like anyone’s idea of a vacation or a resume builder. But I believe spending a year at Richmond Hill was the last thing the Lord had me do in Richmond, before he sent me out into the ministry he had prepared for me.

I have often mentioned how much my experience at Richmond Hill meant to me. But I have not often mentioned how absurdly frustrated I got at points living at Richmond Hill and how at the end I knew there was no way in the world that I could stay there.

We who commit to living at Richmond Hill, whether it be for a year like myself, or for a three to five year commitment, like the permanent staff, commit to living by a Rule of Life. Our Rule of Life is based off of the Rule of St. Benedict, classic monastic work which is considered to be the basis for many Western Monasteries. The Rule of St. Benedict has seventy three chapters and covers everything from renouncing worldly wealth, to different types of monks, to having a twelve step program to make one more humble. Our Rule of Life was more a set of 12 principles rather than a detailed plan for how to deal with everything that might come up when you stick a bunch of people from different age groups, racial backgrounds, genders, and theological perspectives, and stick them all in a monastery together. These principles included such tried and true Christian virtues as humility, prayer, obedience, simplicity, and healing, among others. One way we lived out our values of prayer was by praying together three times a day at 7:00am, noon, and 6pm. It was recommended that we attend as part of our community life but not required as a rule, or some would say commandment.

But about four months in there were times I felt like I just couldn’t take going to prayer or attending a community meal. That I had to get out and see my friends or take a break, and that meant missing prayer. Since it was a principle and not a commandment, I thought no big deal. But soon in our community meetings we started having debates about how many prayers we should attend a week. There were also many other “hidden” rules of the monastery that were not written down but somewhat expected of people. I became very frustrated. I felt it unfair that at its face Richmond Hill emphasized so much the Spirit but the issue of Rules and Laws kept coming up. I almost wanted a manual so I knew what was expected of me.

I mention this tension between what we can call the Spirit and the Law because today is Maundy Thursday. Maundy, being a Latin word that means “commandment.” This refers to Jesus’ statement in John 13:34 where he says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The Greek word for “new” in this passage means, “recent, made fresh, unused, unworn, unprecedented, uncommon, unheard of.” This is strange because the idea of loving one another isn’t exactly a new idea. Many other religions have a version of the Golden Rule, which is to treat others as you would have them treat you. And Deutronomy 6:5 says to love the Lord your God and Leviticus 19:18 says to love your neighbor as yourself. Even in Judaism the idea of loving each other isn’t particularly new. But if we look at this verse we see what makes this commandment a new commandment. It is new because it bases its commandment to love on the example of Jesus. As Jesus says, “ as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” And we see Jesus’ love displayed in his washing of his disciples feet.

One commentary I read suggested that scholars have not been able to find another example in Jewish literature or any other literature for that matter of a Master, a Rabbi, washing the feet of his disciples. Under Jewish Law even a slave could not be required to wash his Master’s feet because it was seen as too shameful, too dirty, too humiliating. One source tells the story of a mother who sought to wash the feet of her son, a Rabbi, but the Rabbi refused because he thought it would be too shameful for her. The mother took her son to court and even then she could not force him to let her wash his feet. This isn’t just about purity laws. People in the ancient world didn’t have manufactured shoes. They wore sandals that were stitched together by hand and they walked everywhere. They didn’t have gold bond, or medicine’s to treat athlete’s foot. So it is easy to see how feet washing could be seen as disgraceful and disgusting.

So it is easy to see why Peter refused to let Jesus wash his feet. But as soon as Peter issues his protest Jesus replies; “ If I do not wash you have no share in me.” The rather impulsive and literal minded Peter, at this news, replies, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus let’s Peter know that what he is doing is not about how much of his body Peter allows him to wash, but the love that Peter allows Jesus to give him, a love that bathes Peter though Jesus is only washing his feet, a love that does not abide by rules of honor and shame, a love that looks past dirt and grime, a love that finds his own, and loves them to the end, to death, to completion, to the cross, to the resurrection. His is a love that is not without letters, that is not without laws. Anyone who says that God’s Love is uncritical and makes no changes to our character or behavior, that it excludes God’s wrath and judgment is preaching the world’s view of love and not the Bible’s. Anyone who says that love is devoid of emotion, passion, compassion, that Love is simply a choice, an act of the Will devoid of life giving Spirit, is preaching the letter of the Law, a religion that binds people with burdens that are to heavy to bear. What Jesus shows us is a love that is alive, a love that refuses to throw out the commandments, but a love that brings the commandments life through the Spirit. Most of all this is a love that has no need of us yet compels us to be transformed into the image of our savior. As the writer of 1 John reminds us, “Beloved let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: