Thursday, June 25, 2015
I am no expert, no theologian, no art historian; but for what it's worth, I think Tintoretto had it right because the scene must have been something akin to this mess, street clothes scattered everywhere, a kindly mutt right there in the middle of the melee. I'm thinking nobody could sit down and wash the feet of a dozen men in the shake of a lamb's tail. Foot-washing--a fully expected ritual--has to take a while. If it was only a matter of a dusty foot baptized in a oaken bucket, the thing could have been over in 12 minutes or less and they could have got on to the important stuff, the meal.
But if the foot-washing was, as Christ claimed, a ritual symbol at the very heart of everything he'd tried to do and teach them about himself and grace, then his doing it had to be more than a slam dunk; he had to put his blessed hands on their pigpen feet, as he is in Tintoretto's vision of things here (1548 or 1549).
And the bald guy at the right has to be Peter, not only because he's the subject in the John's gospel, but also because he's, well, Peter, a man born with a nose for the camera. No wonder some of them were wondering who was going to be greatest in the kingdom; in their sometimes unwashed present, Peter was forever grabbing headlines. The others must have been doing a little wishful thinking, assuming that "last should be first" and all of that, right? After all, he'd said it, Jesus had. Talk amongst yourselves.
Right there in the middle of the work, one of the disciples, who in Tintoretto's mind might well have been just another working stiff, is delivering a blue-robed disciple of his baked-on long johns--and it's no picnic. Strangely enough, the image seems to dominate the whole painting, in part because the action is so seemingly fierce, comic even--and there it is at the heart. The two of them look as if they're horsing around right there in Christ's presence. Imagine that.
They must have been. Like I said, the ritual itself must have lasted a half hour. None of them could have shut up for all that time. They couldn't have been talking about the Cubs, but what was the talk for all that time, other than who was going to greatest in the kingdom? What a bunch of keystone cops. Seriously.
That's why I think the foot-washing moment must have been something like this--and none of that characteristic Rembrandt forboding darkness. The room is spacious, well lit, an almost heavenly swimming pool right out back, and some beautiful giant portals for all the natural light in the world. I think Tintoretto got it right. The disciples r us.
The man in the red robe on the far left is probably there for visual effect alone, to balance the most important act depicted in the painting, which happens (obviously and somewhat uniquely) way out on the right. But who Disciple Red Robe is of the Twelve isn't clear, even though he's obviously serious more serious about what Christ has just done to him (he seems to be redoing his sandals) than Laurel and Hardy up front.
And where's the Judas, that cursed scoundrel? My guess is that he's the shadowy figure leaning up against the pillar in the background, a chap already clearly ill at ease among guys who, not that long ago, were his fishing buddies. He's dressed somewhat regally, but then he's the guy with the vision, after all, not to mention a jingling pocket full of coins.
Our sermon last Sunday was based on the John passage, and it was just fine. But I found myself wondering how this whole ritual actually went down, how specifically Judas--look at him skulking in the background--must have behaved when it was his turn to get his feet washed. What went on between him and the man he'd just sold into death?
Imagine that moment. Christ knows the whole score. He's hinted as much without revealing everything. The Lord of Heaven and Earth is perfectly mum, his hands in the water on the vein-y feet of a honest-to-goodness reprobate who will, with those thirty pieces of silver, give his name to human deceit for at least a couple of thousand years, this damned Judas.
How'd that go in real life? Did Jesus stare him down? He really wasn't into power or machismo. I can't imagine anything was said because he'd already made clear that there was too much that couldn't. When Christ had his hands on Judas's feet, did he jerk them around a little, or was there absolutely no communication that he knew what the villain had already done? What was said between them? What wasn't? What could be? What couldn't?
Could Jesus Christ the Lord be deliberately deceptive? Could he have acted cold as stone? Maybe they just talked shop, talked finances. Maybe it was all surface chatter. "Don't get some rain and the crops are going to suffer--look at this dust!" You know.
Maybe once it was over there was just one subtle wink.
I honestly couldn't write that scene and Tintoretto couldn't picture it either because sometimes Jesus Christ simply escapes me, the mystery. Sometimes it's amazing how much I don't know about what we call the incarnation and never will, as long as my feet too are thick with dirt.
I think Tintoretto had it right, but then what do I know? I certainly don't get Jesus.
I'm just greatly thankful he gets me.