Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Parting Gift

Around the table, voices rise and fall -- some tired, some anxious, all clueless that creation has come to its crossroads. Amid the voices sits the Word, silent. 

He turns to the wine, as yet unpoured, the cups still clean. He knows the wine will be cold as death, dark as blood  -- knows he will see his reflection floating ghost-like in the cup. 

On second thought, I'm really not that thirsty. It isn't too late, even now, to back down. Why, God -- why do you ask the impossible? I'm a man, after all. Flesh and blood, like these.... 

Andrew is grousing about the accommodations. Judas is arguing with Matthew about the group's long range financial planning. Peter, James, and Mark are having a theological debate about whether a Samaritan can gain entrance to heaven. Bartholomew has fallen asleep with his mouth open and is snoring loudly.

I love them, Father. For all their faults, maybe because of their faults. Oh, I don't want to leave them. . .not just yet. 

He stands. 

"Can we eat now?" asks Peter. "I'm famished." 
"Soon," says Jesus. He unties his sash and takes off His robe. 

"Too hot for you?" asks Andrew. "We could open the door. . . .I knew we should have rented that place on the square. They have banquet tables and serving girls and. . ."

"Serving girls, is it?" teases Mark. "Our brother does have an eye for the girls." 

"I do not." Andrew blushes deeply. 

"Leave the door closed," says Jesus, tying the towel around His waist. He goes to the door to fetch the wash basin and then returns to the group. Judas and Matthew are still arguing. 

"You're just too short-sighted," Judas is saying. "You and the others. We ought to at least be drawing interest on our money. Doesn't our Master have a parable to that effect?" 

"If you ask me," growls Matthew, "you've got too much interest in this money already." 

"Ohhhh -- that's cold," shouts Andrew suddenly. Everyone turns to see what the commotion is about. "And it tickles!"

Jesus is kneeling in front of Andrew, and Andrew's dirty feet are soaking in a basin. The disciple's sandals are lying to one side. 

"Jesus, what are you doing?" asks James. Someone pokes Bartholomew, who wakes with a start. 

Jesus takes the towel and dries Andrew's feet. Then he moves, on his knees, to Matthew and starts to untie Matthew's shoes. Matthew looks first at the ceiling, then at the floor, finally out the window. 

"What's he doing? Let me see," demands Thomas. Judas folds his arms across his chest and sighs. 

James looks at his feet and frowns. "Oh, my," he says to Mark, "if I'd known He was going to do a thing like this, I'd have cut my toenails -- or cleaned up a bit. . .or something." 

"How could anyone know He was going to do a thing like this?" Mark replies. 

"You just never know what he's going to do next," Philip whispers. 

After drying Matthew's feet, Jesus moves on to Peter.

"No," says Peter, pounding his fist on the table. "You'll never wash my feet." 

"If I don't, you can't be my friend." 

"Well, all right then. . . .If it means so much to you, wash my hands and my face too." Peter holds out his hands. "Give me a bath if you want to." 

"You've already had a bath, I should hope." 

"If he hadn't, we'd all know it," says Andrew.

Jesus laughs. "Your heart is in heaven -- I know that, Peter. You're my rock. But your feet are still on earth, and they get pretty dirty  -- just look at the water! Of course, not every one of you is clean."

At this, they all look at each other funny and are afraid to say anything else.

For a time, the only sound is that of water wrung repeatedly from the washcloth as Jesus moves around the table. First one star, then two appear in the window. After He has washed all the men's feet, he dresses again and reclines at the table. 

In the silence, Andrew thinks he can hear the celery wilting. 

"Well. . .do you get it?" asks Jesus.

They look at each other stupidly. Peter starts to nod his head yes but changes to a no when Jesus catches his eye.

Jesus speaks slowly, as if explaining a problem in arithmetic to very young children. "If I, your Master, wash your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet. You can't come into my Father's house with dirty feet, you know." Most of the men look down at their just-washed feet, relieved.

"Tonight, I am giving you a very great gift. It's my going away present to you."

They raise their heads again, more confused than ever. Bartholomew looks all around the room but doesn't see any presents.

Jesus sees only a blur of faces, like watercolors that have run. "I give you each other," he says, "and I give you the towel."

Then he wipes his eyes, so he can see to pour the wine.