Jesus asked, “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 13:12-15)
This act of Jesus (washing of the disciples’ feet) is a symbolic and real expression of love and service. It was a practised and acceptable custom of his time. What does it mean for us in our time? How might we interpret Jesus’ action? How might we “wash each other’s feet?” What figurative interpretation can we make of this action and this imperative from Jesus?
At the time of the writing of this article, the world has just learned of the death of Jean Vanier a great humanitarian, philosopher and theologian. He was able to wash the feet of others and helped many to do the same by creating communities of love and service. So, who was he, what did he do, what can we learn?
Vanier founded the L’Arche Communities which are currently in 35 countries with 147 communities supporting and living with people with disabilities.
Vanier was a wonderfully committed human being whose mission in life in simple terms was to love and help others to know they are loved.
The L’Arche motto is ‘changing the world one heart at a time.’
‘His love for Christ overflowed into every relationship with abundant grace. To meet him was to love him, to be loved – and in turn to love all others he loved. Such a luminous goodness was combined with humour, wisdom and practicality’.
In reflecting on Jean Vanier’s life, his ministry and its far-reaching extent into so many countries throughout the world, I found myself reflecting on all that occurs in Mary Aikenhead Ministries with its extensive ministerial involvement in Australia’s eastern states. On a daily basis thousands of people are served and loved in the way of Jesus.
Perhaps the line in the scripture passage chosen for us: I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you, is a potent reminder of why we do what we do.
The multiple ways in which we care for the sick and frail aged, assist the learning and development of young women, provide suitable care, support and outreach for those in need, celebrate the wonderful initiatives and learnings from our research institutes, are all manifestations of doing as Jesus has done. Love in action.
Giving love expression is a foundation value in Mary Aikenhead Ministries.
We learn from Jesus but we can also learn from others, including Jean Vanier, an inspiring individual in our own time who encourages all to:
- let go of expectations
- recognize and respect every individual
- realize that every act of kindness is offered and freely given
- work with people of vision
- learn and keep being challenged no matter what
What is the challenge in this?
Love needs to be given and received for human relationships to thrive. Does this mean we have to do the extraordinary all the time? No. The simplest act of a smile, a question that says ‘can I help you?’, do you know where to go to find that?, or let me do that for you can be so significant for someone in need.
Another line in scripture occurs to me in relation to this: Jesus looked at him and loved him. Sometimes it’s as simple as that!
Vanier’s life was a reflection of his own words:
- ‘To love someone is to show them their beauty, their worth and their importance’, and
- ‘Many people are good at talking about what they are doing, but in fact do little. Others do a lot but don’t talk about it, they are the ones who make a community live’.
Thank you for each and every act of love and service which you give so generously each and every day.
May you know that you are appreciated and that what you are doing and giving is a gift of God to make our world a better place.
Laureen Dixon rsc
Trustee, Mary Aikenhead Ministries