In the time of Jesus, washing was part of Jewish custom as a symbol of ritual purification. Washing is also part of the celebration of Catholic Mass today, when the priest’s hands are washed and he prays:
“Lord wash away my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” (Ps 51:2)
The Gospel of John also recounts how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. We can assume that the disciples’ feet were rather dusty and dirty from walking in open sandals, and that they understood the gesture by Jesus as one of radical humility. He thus demonstrated that in God’s kingdom, leadership and greatness is determined by service to others, rather than by status, wealth or power. (see John 13:1-15)
This idea of servant leadership was also appreciated by St Paul, a devout Jew, who wrote in his letter to the Ephesians;
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her in order to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the Church to himself in splendour, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind – yes so that she may be holy and without blemish.” (Eph 5: 25-27)
In an earlier verse he implored spouses to:
“Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph 5:21)
Thus, husbands and wives are called to mutual self-donation in imitation of Christ; to give of themselves in love to one another, just as Christ did for them; to purify themselves by addressing the sin and woundedness that separates them from each other and from God.
In practical terms, this means practising repentance as a daily discipline. Criticism, misunderstanding, superiority, teasing, selfishness, irritability… these are just some of the many ways that spouses wound each other. This month, commit to an end-of-day examination of conscience. Ask yourself: How have I failed to love and serve my spouse today? Lay your sins at Jesus’ feet, and ask for forgiveness. Even if you never directly discuss this with your spouse, this practice will strengthen you to love with the servant heart of Jesus, drawing you and your spouse closer to God.
How have I failed to love and serve my spouse today?
Pray: Lord Jesus, wash away my iniquity and cleanse me of my sin.
Authors: Francine & Byron Pirola
This article featured in the April 2012 edition of the CathFamily e-Magazine.
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