We are rarely at our best. Too often what shows forth in our lives is not what's best in us: love, generosity, a big heart. More often than not, our lives radiate irritation, pettiness, a small heart. Too often we are consumed by petty irritations, inner conflict and frequent frustration. Each may be small in itself; but cumulatively they take the sunshine and delight out of our lives. So instead of feeling grateful and gracious, we feel fearful and anxious and end up acting out of a cold and troubled part of ourselves rather than out of our authentic self.
Why do we do this? Because we are asleep to who and what we really are. When Jesus is experiencing his agony in the garden, he turns to his disciples for support. They're supposed to be watching and praying with him, but Jesus finds them asleep. Yet Jesus offers a curious excuse why they are asleep. They are asleep, he says, not because they are tired and it is late, but they are asleep "out of sheer sorrow."
That says a lot! It says the disciples are asleep because they are depressed by recent events in their lives. But it is also true that they are also asleep to what is deepest within them. They were asleep to the fact that within each of them is the image and likeness of God. As disciples of Jesus, we believe that what ultimately defines us and gives us dignity is the image and likeness of God. It is the DNA of our souls. This Image of God within us is meant to be the source from which we draw the vision, grace and strength of character to swallow our pride, and become our authentic selves.
We see this in tonight's Gospel. John tells us that at the Last Supper, Jesus gets up from the Table and begins washing the feet of his disciples against their protests. This gesture, Jesus, washing the feet of his disciples, is an act not just of humility but of his deep and abiding love for them. When he does this, Jesus tells us that he is setting an example for us to imitate. He is inviting us to bend down to understand and wash the feet of those with whom, for all kinds of reasons, we would prefer not to have much contact. It's akin to having atheists and religious fundamentalists wash each other's feet, having pro-life and pro-choice people wash each others' feet, having strident conservatives and radical liberals wash each others' feet.
Jesus can do this because he isn't asleep to who and what he is. John tells is, "Jesus knew that God put him in complete charge of everything, that he comes from God and is going back to God." Knowing this, he gets up from the Table and takes off his outer garments" and begins washing their feet. When we are really in touch with the fact that we too have "come from God and are going back to God," then and only then can we put ourselves at the service of the most needy in our midst and become what God calls us to be: authentic disciples of Jesus Christ.