5Then 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… 12After 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. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. (John 13:5, 12-15)
A lot of people who share my political opinions are confused about my Christian beliefs. How is it that I can support anarchist ideas of anti-anthoritarianism and doing away with structures that put a single leader in charge of others, and then also be associated with a religion that has a long, sad history of abusing power and elevating leaders who unfairly dictate how the rest of the world should act?
Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday) is one of my answers. It’s the day when Christians remember the Last Supper, the Passover meal Jesus shared with his disciples before he was arrested and executed by the state authorities of the Roman empire. But there’s also another event that is remembered on this day: Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. He was the leader, the teacher, the one they looked up to for guidance, the one they followed. And he turned that top-down power dynamic on its head. He stepped out of the role of leader, and did the most menial of tasks, the job that servants and women (those lowest in social standing at the time) were expected to do. I think it’s an example of what the Zapatistas of southern Mexico call mandar obedeciendo — leading by obeying.
Jesus told his followers it was also up to them to wash the feet of others. This was not a one time symbolic performance, this was a model of how to live in community. It is the task of Christians to continue this practice of washing feet, not just in a ritual performed once a year, but by finding ways to lead by serving, by challenging the notion that having power means wielding it over another, and instead sharing that power to serve the entire community. It’s a belief and practice that informs both my faith and political ideals.
Share a meal, and wash one another’s feet. No, it’s not exactly the anarchist slogan of “no gods, no masters,” but I think it describes a beautiful way for transforming the world, a way that transcends both religion and politics.