Dirty Feet (A Homily for Everyone)

How many times do you think you have washed your hands over the past two years? Especially during the pandemic – keeping things squeaky clean so that we would not help spread the virus.  Way too many times to count on our fingers, right?  So, lets’ put together a little equation: 365 days x 2 years x 5-times a day = 3,650 times. Wow!! And that’s a whole lot of “Happy Birthdays” if you sang along each time!

It’s a good habit to keep, especially before we eat.

Way back in the time of Jesus – a couple of thousand years ago – folks had another good habit which might seem a little strange to us. Washing feet.

Palestine was a pretty dusty place.  The roads were covered with dirt not pavement. People wore sandals – not just in the summer but all year long. By the time you got home for dinner your feet were covered with grime. So, when you stepped into the door you would sit down to wash your feet with a basin of water and dry them with a towel – before you sat down for supper. (You washed your hands too, of course!)

Today’s gospel tells a foot washing story. 

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus whom Jesus had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’s feet and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of perfume.

John 12:1-3

Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were friends of Jesus, very close friends of Jesus. The Bible often speaks of Jesus’ apostles, disciples, or followers – but Jesus just called them friends.

Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, two sisters and a brother, were incredibly grateful for Jesus restoring Lazarus’ life. He had been so very sick and Jesus wept when he heard that his dear friend was approaching death. The fact that Lazarus was with them breaking bread at the table was nothing less than a miracle.

Mary, had often sat at Jesus’ feet to soak up all the wisdom he had to share, and on this particular night she knelt to wash Jesus’ feet with expensive oil and perfume. A lavish and generous gesture full of love – she was so grateful to her friend.

But another guest at the table was not so happy about all of this: Judas.

Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?

It was a very good question but Judas did not have the best of intentions. He was the treasurer, the one who kept tabs on the money. And 300 denarii was a WHOLE LOT of money!!  Equal to year’s salary – about $50,000 in 2022!! Some of the other disciples were pretty sure Judas was stealing and that he did not really care about the poor. 

Six days later there was another dinner party. The Passover – a very special occasion, a time when Jesus’ people, the Jews, celebrated their freedom, their escape from slavery in Egypt, their freedom from the oppressive Pharaoh.

And twelve of Jesus’ closest friends were there – even Judas. 

Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to his Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. And during supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas to betray him, Jesus knowing that he had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel. Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the feet of his friends. 

When he was done and returned to his place, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. I then, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should also do as I have done. Truly I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. Blessed are you that do them.

John 13:1-4, 12-17

Jesus washed Peter’s feet. Andrew’s feet. Philip’s feet. Everyone’s feet. Including Judas’ feet.  Even though Judas, the betrayer was about to become the Worst. Friend. Ever.

As Holy Week approaches, those who accompany Jesus on his journey to the cross include not only Mary a faithful disciple who devotes herself and all that she has to Jesus but also Judas, the unfaithful disciple. Both are included in the story, both the one who is faithful and the one who is not, and their inclusion tells a great deal about the meaning of the cross and the inclusive nature of God’s grace.

Feasting on the Word, George Stroup

Now most of us would like to hold up the example of Mary to our children, and dissuade our children from following down Judas’ path.

But Frederick Buechner, in his book Peculiar Treasures (which I paraphrase here), tells us that “it did not start out this way. When Mr. and Mrs. Simon Iscariot named their baby boy Judas it was with all the hope and promise typical of new parents.  Judas’ very name means praise and he was very likely named for Judas of Maccabees — the victorious hero in the Hebrew war of independence.  Judas was their beloved son — on whom they pinned their hopes and dreams.

“When Jesus befriended Judas, when he called him as a disciple it was with that same hope.  Judas of Kerioth was possibly the only one of the Twelve chosen from outside of Galilee. As treasurer, he possessed a privileged position among the apostles.  He sat at the highest place — near to Jesus at the Passover Seder. His friend honored him — trusted him.  Judas was in truth a most beloved disciple of the Lord.

“But Judas thirsted for thirty lousy pieces of silver and sold his friend down the river with a kiss. 

“There are several versions of what Judas did afterwards.  Matthew’s Gospel says that Judas gave the blood money back, not being able to put it his pocket, not being able to live with himself, he repented for his lost friend, and surrendered his soul even before Jesus started up the hill to Calvary.

“Many of the Passion players ended up as saints. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Peter who denied his Lord and ran away. Simon of Cyrene who helped Jesus carry the cross. Joseph of Arimethea who gave his tomb. Mary his mother. Mary of Magdala. Sinners turned saints one and all.  But not so Judas.  Judas, history records as the devil’s kissing cousin.

“But there is a tradition in the early church that turns this story around. Just like when Jesus washed the betrayer’s’ dirty feet, “It’s a scene worth imagining — once again Judas and Jesus meet in the shadows, the two old friends both of them a little worse for the wear after all that had happened. Only this time it will be Jesus who gives the kiss. And this time it won’t be the kiss of betrayal but a kiss of forgiveness, a kiss of peace, the kiss of life.”

In just seven days Holy Week will be upon us and Maundy Thursday is near. Though we won’t be setting up pitcher and basin and towel to do the real thing, let us follow the example of Jesus (even if just figuratively) and wash each others’ dirty feet — with loving random little acts of kindness, and maybe random big acts of kindness too.

Pax vobiscum,


P.S. Join us virtually April 14 at 7:00 pm on Zoom for Emmanuel’s celebration of the Scottish Rite for Maundy Thursday; and the following evening for the Way of the Cross on Good Friday, also 7:00 pm on Zoom.

Lent Spirituality The Episcopal Church

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The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog

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