Today we will pause to prepare our hearts for the journey ahead by lingering over the painting of Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet by Ford Madox Brown (1821-1893) This painting is one of my all time favorites and I love to use it a launch pad for greater reflections.
Madox Brown was a British artist famous for his association with the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood. The artists of this movement are known for their use of vibrant colors and finely detailed realism to convey a message to change society…“by picking themes that told stories that challenged prevailing attitudes.” ([i] says art historian Alison Smith.
Madox Brown has composed this painting in such away that it tells the story in a new and refreshing way. Paintings such as this can provide rich spiritual food as they lead us deeper into the scene if we allow it to work as the fulcrum of our thoughts.
Dear Heavenly Father,
We pause and rest now… fully breathing in the details of your last supper with your disciples. Help us to realize more deeply the profound meaning of this exchange between you and our brother Peter. Because we are separated by time and space, we struggle with our understanding of this tradition. Be with each of us, guiding our hearts so that we may hear this story, through the use of this painting, with a new and personally cleansing message that will lighten our hearts the power of forgiveness.
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things you will be blessed if you do them.”~John 13: 12-17
- Begin by noticing how we are viewing Jesus from a lower perspective. We must mentally kneel to properly consider each disciples reaction as it is being played out in a very intimate compressed space.
- Viewing this we can place ourselves among them… preparing ourselves for the meal…and for Christ’s mind-shattering display of love…
- Rest your eyes now on Peter. He is portrayed as an older man here and so because of this I wonder about Peter and how he must have remembered this moment over the years. I can sympathize with his look of discomfort.
- I can see pieces of myself in Peter’s reaction to Jesus and I can hear my voice say, “ No, you will never wash my feet!” Viewing the painting from this angle helps me to realize that as much as I love and adore Jesus, I can still resist his control in my life. And I can feel a type of brotherly love for Peter as I look once again to the painting
- Consider the feelings of the entire group as they lean in and look on, some are awe struck and others are horrified and let yourself think about Jesus’ question:
- Do you understand what I have done?
- Notice the disciple on the left who is leaning in and untying his sandal. He is eagerly anticipating the moment when Jesus will wash his feet. While the others are still unsure they can allow this cleansing, this one is coming forward without hesitation.
- As I fully appreciate this disciple, I begin to think about being personally cleansed by Jesus. The idea of allowing myself to be renewed by his touch of grace so that his forgiveness will transform my life begins to powerfully move my heart towards Jesus.
- I can see with new eyes that we must first allow him to cleanse our hearts from our misconceptions before we can humbly serve others. We can desire to serve others because we have confessed our sins and allowed Jesus to heal our wounds. Knowing and experiencing his grace causes us to feel a greater compassion and brotherhood with those around us.
- I begin to feel myself in motion, no longer resisting Jesus’ call and as I am turning, I begin to hear deep down in my soul the call of the song Down to the River to Pray. The simple, repetitive nature of the words become meditative and so they begin to fill my mind now with a vision of a slowly increasing crowd gathering at the river to be cleansed and renewed in their baptism.
- When I allowed myself to deeply gaze into the story with the use of this painting, I realized that I have a Lord and King who has washed me, though I don’t fully understand it. He is willing to kneel at my feet and this thought opens and humbles me. …And I am refreshed to begin again.
[i] Were the Pre-Raphaelites Britain’s First Modern Artists? Alison Smith, August 23 2012, Tate Gallery Channel Blog, http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/blogs/were-pre-raphaelites-britains-first-modern-artists