Uncomfortable Compassion

The Easter period has begun. In the media (social and otherwise, especially on blogs), there are many reflective pieces. Mine will be short, as I have quite a few of those posts in my inbox already.

I had a thought, earlier today: part of the ceremony is that we use the same words, year after year and even the same songs. It is ritualistic, rhythmic, symbolic yet containing truth. An old story, passed down through the years. It is up to the priest to bring anything new to it – if they wish to. (In that light, I ought to say that a lot of the stuff I talk about below has been influenced by things I’ve heard religiously-trained people say and what they’ve taught me, as well as things I’ve researched from other religious sources.)

One thing I’ve noticed about both ceremonies (Thurs and Fri) is how explicit the text is that Jesus loved his friends. His teaching wasn’t the distant, high-and-mighty sort, after all. He was down-to-earth, empathising with those He taught. Especially with His disciples, “whom he loved” as the text says. I believe that His companions were men and women, by the way.


It’s Holy Thursday, otherwise known as Maundy Thursday. The readings tell of the first Passover (after all, Christianity developed from Judaism). Then of how Jesus took supper with his disciples and washed their feet.

Jesus knew he’d been inciting trouble from those in power by preaching the message of non-violence, compassion and forgiveness to each other. He was a rebel, in a disenfranchised community. The people in charge were greedy traditionalists who wanted everything to stay the same – it suited them, after all. They targeted Jesus and He knew it. Not that it stopped Him – He had a vision (from God, you could say) and was not intimidated by others disagreeing with him.

In the supper, Jesus offered up bread and wine as His body and blood – basically asking his disciples to not forget Him or His teachings, after He was gone. I like to imagine that, before or after that “surprise” from Jesus (depending on when exactly it happened in the meal), the group would have spent time laughing and talking and sharing stories. A true communion between good friends who shared a common purpose. I believe there were more than just the Twelve there. It would have been like a big party, with strong bonds between all.

Before supper, though, Jesus gave His disciples another example of what his mission meant. He washed their feet. In those times, people wore sandals and walked around streets that were dirty due to animal and other wastes, I believe. So one of the things that ‘important’ people would do would remove their shoes and have their feet washed when they arrived home inside. Usually, a servant (or slave) would wash the feet of the master of the house and his guests (‘her’ guests was rarer). Jesus was a Teacher and a ‘Master’ (addressed as such at points in the Bible). His disciples were like servants in a sense – certainly lesser than Him in the parlance of the time because they were learning from Him and not the other way around.

For Him to wash their feet was the greatest of role reversals – hence why Simon Peter was so adamant that “no, Lord, you will not wash my feet”. Jesus was just as stubborn, though. In the end, He washed all of their feet, with a joke for Simon Peter when he was overeager (Jn 13:10). Jesus went on to explain why he did it (Jn 13:13-:17). He was manifesting a visible form of compassion.

Another way of explaining it is this song, often played during the ceremony of Holy Thursday (while the washing of the feet is re-enacted): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qgz_xsdbEks = The Servant Song.

Pope Francis washed the feet of refugees of different faiths this year. He’s washed the feet of prisoners and other people who are marginalised or outcast in some way. This shows what we need to do, symbolically and physically: welcome the “stranger”, even the inconvenient one, or the one we might not think to help first. Welcome them with love and compassion and leave your judgements at the door.




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