My friends and I have been talking a lot this Lenten season about this Year of Mercy, thanks to the 2016 Faces of Mercy Catholic Conference 4 Moms. We began by understanding that mercy is twofold. It is both forgiveness and relieving the misery of others.
Tonight in Catholic churches all around the world, priests will wash others' feet during Mass. It seems an odd thing to do, to wash someone's feet. It's very intimate and kind of stinky. Yet, this is exactly what Jesus did at the Last Supper. The Gospel of John describes it:
|1||Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.|
|2||And during supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him,|
|3||Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God,|
|4||rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel.|
|5||Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded.|
|6||He came to Simon Peter; and Peter said to him, "Lord, do you wash my feet?"|
|7||Jesus answered him, "What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand."|
|8||Peter said to him, "You shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no part in me."|
|9||Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!"|
|10||Jesus said to him, "He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but he is clean all over; and you are clean, but not every one of you."|
|11||For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, "You are not all clean."|
|12||When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you?|
|13||You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am.|
|14||If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.|
|15||For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.|
I have been pondering how Jesus' act of washing the feet of his disciples was an act of mercy. They wore sandals, all the time, in the hot, dry desert. History tells us their feet were caked in sweat and dirt, and they walked many miles in a single day. So I imagine that washing their feet in cool, clean water was a relief from the sticky, smelly, achy feeling of unclean feet. Jesus relieved their misery when he washed their feet.
And He insisted upon it. Jesus did not allow Peter to excuse himself from receiving this mercy and still be in His good favor. It was through this act of relieving their misery that He taught them about humility. He needed the disciples to see that true Christians extend mercy to others, even when it's dirty and stinky and requires us to stoop below our position.
To me, that sounds a lot like motherhood. We do dirty, stinky work. We change diapers and wipe noses. We listen to the anger pour out of our teenagers. But that work relieves the misery of our children. Mothers humble themselves to do the menial tasks of daily life to keep our children healthy in mind, body, and soul.
When I go to Mass this evening and observe the merciful act of feet washing, I will try to reflect on how I extend mercy to others, in my family and in my community, by doing the dirty work and bowing down. And I will pray that we will all, like Peter, openly accept the way God's mercy comes to us in our hearts and through the acts of others.