Two statements from Holy Thursday stir up an existential awe in my heart:
"You will never wash my feet," and "Do you realize what I have done for you?"
Like the Pharisees who saw Jesus dining with sinners and showing kindness to "wicked" women, and like the disciples who pushed back crowds and guarded Jesus from children, it is easy for those of us who hold God in high regard to be disturbed at the implication that he be made unclean or that he should associate with anything less than riches and honor and favor. We know in our humanity that sin and God are eternally in opposition to one another; to pursue the appetites and desires we have for one is to spit in the face of the other.
From the first moments of the unfolding of the fall, Adam and Eve felt ashamed. Their shame was in knowing -- not in having some sort of intellectual knowledge gained from academics or valuable experiences -- but in knowing, with a deep intimacy, the dividing factors between good and evil. They hid themselves with whatever they could retrieve from the world around them, dreading what they now knew was not merely nakedness, but vulnerability.
As soon as sin had taken root in our human nature, so did the anxious "knowing" that we are not good enough for God, that being searched by him or known by him or found by him might mean our ultimate end. Their anxieties in these moments were not too far off the mark -- we are told that no one can see the face of God and live (Exodus 33:20) and that "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Hebrews 10:31)
We sense this distinctness between our nature and God's innately, and it gives us a certain a hesitancy toward the sacred. We don't want to make God dirty. We don't want to profane him. We don't want to offend him (though we often do). Imagine Peter's horror, then, as Jesus, taking a towel, wrapped it around his waist and proceeded to lower himself to wash Peter's feet.
But Jesus is unrestrained by our anxieties. He sees our needs and nothing in him is hindered by sin. The hesitancy we have toward God is not one he has toward us. We see a holy God and withhold ourselves, just as Peter did when he first took Jesus out in his boat. "Depart from me; I am a sinful man." But Jesus sees a hurting and fallen people, and withholds nothing of himself.
Jesus knows that if he withholds himself, it will only be to our peril. "Unless I wash you, you can have no part in me." Jesus has no fear of our feet that have trudged through the dirt and the mud of this dying world. Jesus gets down in the dirt himself, and with weary hands and dirty fingernails and sweat caked to his brow, he performs the work of a servant. The arms which will bear the weight of the world's sin first bear the sorrow and soreness we bear from holding ourselves up for so long.
Knowing who would betray him, who would deny him, and who would follow him to the death, Jesus does not partake in any sort of preferentialism. He tends to the tiredness and the wounds of the sinner and the saint.
Jesus gazes into the human condition, seeing our shame and our sense of unworthiness, searching the darkened corners of our hearts where we hide ourselves with whatever we've found in the world around us, and lovingly pleads with us: "Do you realize what I have done for you?"