It wasn’t the first time that the disciples had seen feet washed that night of their last meal with Jesus. Certainly, it was the custom for a servant to wash one’s feet, made dirty through walking on dusty roads, before one ate a meal. Certainly, it was most unusual for feet to be washed during a meal, and to be washed by the host or leader.
I wonder if Jesus’ actions during the last meal with his disciples, after which he would be betrayed and arrested, were inspired by an event that the gospel writer said took place a week or so before.
According to John’s gospel, eight days before the Passover, Jesus was in Bethany eating with his disciples in the home of his dear friends Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. It is during that meal that Mary takes costly perfume and anoints Jesus’ feet, then dries his feet with her hair. The perfume of the oil fills the room. I wonder if as Jesus pondered this humble action, this generous gift, that he was struck with the deep devotion and servanthood of Mary.
I wonder that at the meal a week or so later, that last meal with his disciples, that Jesus spied the basin and pitcher and towel set out in the corner of the room where they were eating, ready for foot washing, basic good manners in a Jewish home. Maybe their feet had already been washed by a servant. Whatever the case, I wonder if Jesus, seeing the props for washing feet, remembered Mary washing his feet just days before. I wonder if he remembered the devotion and love in that humble yet generous act. I wonder if remembering the act of pure love and kindness Mary had bestowed on him that he was then moved to share that same kind of love and devotion with his own beloved disciples.
There is a church in North Carolina that has an extraordinary fresco behind the altar. The fresco takes up the whole back wall, and the altar appears to be an extension of the fresco. In it we see Jesus with the twelve. We see a basin and bowl with a towel draped as if it had been used. Eleven of the twelve are seated at the table with Jesus; we only see the back of another disciple as he goes out of the door (Judas?). We also see a woman serving at the table, another woman to the side with two children, and one more man at the edge of the fresco who appears to be walking away.
Which made me wonder about another back story of that last meal. Who set up for the meal? Who baked the bread? Who made the wine and who brought it? Who cleaned up afterwards? Would there have been a last meal without their service?
Wondering about Mary and all of the other nameless, faceless folks that made that last meal with Jesus possible, I wonder about all of the other backstories of the Gospel–all of those many actions in Jesus’ life that we honor and celebrate that might not have happened without ordinary folk saying yes to serve, going all of the way back to the yeses of his mother and father.
It seems that on this Holy Thursday we have the opportunity to ponder the mostly anonymous back stories that made Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection possible. We also have the opportunity to ponder who we are still in Jesus’ back story today, in the way that we serve with love, particularly in response to the love and service we have received.
How are we Jesus’ back story? How are we to be Jesus’ back story?