In Holy Week, Maundy Thursday recounts the story of The Last Supper. A poignant part of the story is where Jesus models humility and service in the washing of the disciples’ feet. Less of a focus is Peter’s reluctance to receive it. The story teaches us about the relational nature of love.
My Mother's Feet
With the bustle and pother
Of Saturday lunch -
Mr Kipling French Fancies and ready cut rolls -
She busies herself, briefly ignited
By The Weekly Visit.
I perch on the sofa's edge and take in her life.
Wallpaper, grubby, hangs peeling.
Tears covered by layers.
The corner of the duvet peeks around the bedroom door;
Dirty and sullen, discarded where dropped.
Care is what is needed
And the last thing it will get.
My gaze drops to her naked feet,
Planted firm at the kitchen counter.
Feet that have been scorned and mocked -
Hooked toes, "Made for sleeping on a perch,"
Thick with nail and bunion,
Betraying years of winkle picker wear;
Callously, unnaturally contorted.
They speak of loneliness and self-loathing;
Grey and bitter, encrusted with scales.
"Could you get them looked at, Mum?"
"Don't need them seen."
To be seen is what they need
And the last thing they will get.
As I perch on the plastic chair and
Her death rattle draws oxygen from the room,
My eyes are transfixed on those same feet.
Sticking out from the crisp hospital sheet: Defiant,
Care was what she needed
And the last thing she'd accept.
In the Gospel story, Peter initially refuses to let Jesus wash his feet, believing himself to be unworthy.
Jesus has none of this:
Unless I wash you, you have no part of me. John 13:14-17
I am sure that many of us are like my mother. Happy to help; not so keen on receiving it. Jesus’ words remind us that love is relational. One of my most favourite analogies for this is the image of the two seas in the Holy Land: The Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. The former is teeming with life; in the second, nothing flourishes. The difference? The river Jordan flows into the Sea of Galilee and out of it again; whereas the Dead Sea is a dead end. Minerals condense and concentrate, choking the prospect of any prolific life. Unless love flows, is it really love?
There are many reasons we find it hard to accept love. Perhaps we have learnt to mistrust or have felt rejection too early in our lives. Maybe we believe we must remain strong at all costs. Jesus teaches that love and sorrow, strength and weakness are the same. A paradox, but we have to chance vulnerability to experience love at its fullest.
I am called to mind many of our children whose hard exteriors, built to protect, prevent them from accepting love. They push it away. They are often the kindest beings, with a strong sense of justice, yet feel unworthy of the love we try to bestow. Sadly, for some, unconditional love is a concept too alien to grasp.
How can we open ourselves, or help those that most need it, to the love of God? It isn’t as easy as it sounds…but vital that we try.
These days I see it in the magpie, now sat on our bird feeder as I write this, the hum of the central heating, my family and my vocation, the sunshine on the grass in my garden, the rain I fell asleep to last night – so many things – yet still, I am guilty of feeling unworthy. Something we could all sit with, I think.