April 1, 2021
by Martha Bourlakas
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. —John 13:34
Jesus did not need to see us with cell phones to know how humanswould behave in 2021. The Son of God knew from the get-go how easily distracted we are, how we procrastinate the hard work of loving in favor of busy-ness, how it can be easier to lose our eyes in a screen than to have an eye-to-eye conversation. He knew we need pointed actions and stories to make us listen and attend to the larger, urgent love narrative. In today’s Gospel, Jesus knows he does not have much time left, so he must synthesize his lessons. To teach his most critical commandment—Love one another as I have loved you—he gets intimate. He holds and cleans us where we are most dirty, most callused, most vulnerable: our feet.
During the pandemic quarantine, our family watched a lot of scary movies together. Our ritual—selecting the movie, popping the popcorn, digging up Junior Mints from the candy drawer, turning off the lights, lighting candles—seemed trivial at first, but then meaning appeared. The world outside our doors was suddenly so frightening and unpredictable that our grown children and their parents needed intense stories and characters to help us step away from reality, if only for two hours.
One of the horror movie tropes is the feet-grab. As soon as the pro-tagonist is down on the floor, especially near a bed, under which scary demon-character hides, you know what’s coming … she is going to have her feet grabbed, and will be pulled rapidly into the void. No no, no, we scream, it’s your only chance! Get up, run away! As if we hadn’t experi-enced this plot point over and over, our family clung to each other. We squeezed each others’ arms, held hands, covered each others’ eyes, and laughed at our fears.
The movie feet-grab allowed us much-needed intimacy with each other, the only humans in our immediate worlds, the only people we weren’t seeing through screens. Our daughters, like so many, quickly forced away from their close friends and boyfriends by the pandemic, had lost human touch, and needed a safe way to cling. How critical touch and intimacy are to our psychological-emotional development. What a loss not to be able to touch and hold.
In this Maundy Thursday Gospel, Jesus knows the immediate future is going dark, that he is being pulled into a horrible human void. Jesus illus-trates his urgent love lesson, stops us cold, by holding our feet. He does not focus on our bony bunions, but looks us in the eye and washes us in humility and love. Cling to each other, he says, for it is in the intimacy, the love, you will find your way out of the darkness.