by Guest Contributor
A reflection by James Trewby - Justice and Peace Education Worker

 Jesus got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord--and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

 John 13:1-17

  In my work as the Columban’s ‘Justice and Peace Education Worker’ I often use Jesus washing his disciples’ feet as an introduction to programmes based around learning through encounter. Jesus’ action, of course, would have been uncomfortable and awkward for the disciples; being served and the instruction to make themselves servant must have been difficult! Here, maybe Jesus is calling us to encounter others in ways that challenge us and bring us out of our place of comfort. As Christians, we are invited to encounter, and actively love, people at the margins. This can be unpredictable at times, and difficult. But in our work for justice and peace, these encounters are crucial – meeting people where they are. I use it to invite educators and/or young people to see the world from a different perspective. In ‘ordinary times’ I have an understanding of this scripture. But now is a time of social distancing, when people interacting with others is discouraged, restricted and even dangerous. What is the call now in this messy and intimate encounter in the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet? At this time, I find the picture of a room full of friends gathered around a table of food quite a comforting one. It makes me feel hopeful when I escape into the moment of gentle and physical touch between Jesus and his disciples. It is consoling to be reminded of how formative and powerful contact with another person can be. I imagine them afraid, confused but finding solace in being together. So how to respond to Jesus’ bold invitation as we find ourselves behind closed doors? Perhaps it’s helpful for us to go back to the disciples in that upper room. The time that they spent there together was planting seeds for the work that followed, feeding them, preparing them, setting them on their journeys. How might our encounters with loved ones at this time, online or in the home, help to prepare our hearts for a time when we can venture out and be with others again? How might we be different as we leave the ‘upper room’ and set off on mission?