Thursday, September 26, 2013

Taboo Crossing (John 13:2-5)

        The Devil had already convinced Judas Iscariot, begot of Simon, to betray Jesus. So during supper, Jesus - knowing that God had put all things into his own hands, and that he had come from God and was returning to God - rose from the table, took off his clothes and wrapped a towel around his waist. He then poured water into a basin to wash the disciples' feet, and dry them with a towel that was around his waist. 
John 13:2-5

Clothes are removed. Water is poured. A solitary figure, dressed only in a towel kneels before a basin, inviting feet to be cleansed.

Charles Fillmore has a wonderful quote about feet: "The feet are the most willing and patient servants of the body. They go all the day at the bidding of the mind..." The feet are a rather busy pair, they have to be-in-step, and sometimes we even have to step-it-up. We might be accused of dragging-our-feet, or even of dancing-with-two-left-feet. But if we work hard we might get our foot-in-the door and even go toe-to-toe. For sure we don't want to be under-foot, or worse, shoot-ourselves-in-the-foot. Certainly our feet have carried us in marches, parades, and other places of public and private displays of queer love.

With so much riding on our feet, it's a wonder we don't honor them more.

Bathing feet was an expectation in arid, dessert lands. The homeowner, typically male, was expected to provide guests with foot washings, typically done by a servant or a wife. Which means that in the act of hospitality there was a practice of rigid patriarchal structure. This structure both welcomed and confined. The guest is welcomed, the foot-washer is confined to a demeaning role.

By taking on the role of the foot-washer, Jesus both welcomes his guests (the disciples) and offends them at the same time. Just beyond the verses cited, Peter argues with Jesus over this taboo-crossing act. In the context of John's Gospel, the action is a living parable underlying the servant nature of binding oneself as a disciple to Jesus.

Beyond the immediate context, the actions speak of the courage and rightness to cross rigid boundaries which divide people into above and below, master and slave, male and female. By this simple action Jesus throws into confusion the structure of society. Splho captures this fracturing and displacement in his cubist rendition of the scene. Jesus' transgression of the norm cast the "society" (the composition of the painting) into strong angels "cutting" at the society, as it were.

Here, for us queers, is a marvelous affirmation of our transgression of the rigid taboos which keep us in the submissive role - "below," "slave," and "female" (with female understood through the lens of patriarchy). Here also is an example to the heterosexual community that taking on the submissive role does not diminish us as a human, but rather expands our spirits.

Which, in a way, brings us back to John's context. How shall we witness this act Church? Have we so thrown our lot in with the "above," "master," and "male" that we no longer recognize in this act our own "masters" directions to us? Are we so concerned with being at the top of the power structure that we cannot follow our Savior into the diminutive role of foot-washer?

However these questions might be answered, we religious queers and allies once again find ourselves reminding the Church of what it has long forgotten: when we trespass upon sacred taboos, and chip away rigid gender and social roles, God celebrates with us.

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