Humility on Display

Jesus washing feet

Ford Madox Brown (1821-1893) was an English painter. Originally this painting depicted Jesus only partially clad, but this caused such an outcry that it remained unsold for several years, until Brown covered Christ with more robes.

I love this depiction of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples on the night he was betrayed. Here we are with Peter again, the one who says, “Who, me?” when asked if he knows Jesus a few hours from here. Here Peter protests the washing at first, but eventually understands the significance of Jesus’ act and becomes humble enough to let him continue. We are brought into the scene after Peter’s argument with Christ. His face is sober and his hands clasped in prayer.

Have you ever taken part in a foot-washing? It can be humbling not only to wash another’s feet but to be on the receiving end of having your feet washed. It’s an uncomfortable intrusion of your personal space and to allow another person to serve you (especially someone in a position of authority) requires a humble spirit.

Brown has painted this scene at a perspective that is low and cramped, helping us feel as if we are part of the scene and have joined the disciples at the table. Notice the variety of their expressions and postures. What would your reaction be?

Take a look at the man sitting on the far left. The money bag on the table in front of him tells us that this is Judas. The same Judas who complained when Jesus’ feet were washed by the woman’s tears at an earlier dinner. The same Judas that will soon betray the foot-washer. Notice now, however, that he bends down to untie his sandals, as if to say, “I’m next!”

Brown makes a statement by showing Jesus washing the feet, not only of his friends but also of his enemy. Jesus spent his last few hours alive forgiving and cleansing and serving the man who was about to betray him.

Being Human connection: Can we humble ourselves as Peter did, understanding our need for Jesus’ sacrifice? Can we humble ourselves as Jesus did, serving even those who we feel may not deserve it? 

Featured image: Ford Madox Brown, “Christ Washing Peter’s Feet,” Tate Modern, London, England