Tonight, Pope Francis will visit a home for the elderly and disabled in Rome. There he will wash the feet of residents, all of whom are lay people. Women and non-Christians may be in the group. However, not everyone applauds the pope’s inclusivism, claiming that priests are required by Church law to wash only the feet of 12 men. The pope doesn’t seem to care. According to a Vatican spokesman, such rules can be a distraction from “the profound messages of the Gospels and of the Lord of the Church.”
I wonder what Pope Francis would think about the fact that today is “National Ask an Atheist Day.” Organizers hope to provide “an opportunity for the general public—particularly people of faith—to approach us and ask questions about secular life.” Ironically—or providentially—the annual event falls this year on Maundy Thursday.
Oddly, I believe we can learn from both Pope Francis and the atheists who staged their Day. Both are taking the initiative to bring their message to those who might not otherwise come to them. While the atheists won’t care, they and the pope are following the example of Jesus.
This night 20 centuries ago, our Savior went to a private garden within an area known as Gethsemane. Why there? He was too popular for the authorities to arrest him in the city or during daylight hours. So he went to this garden because “Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples” (John 18:2). It was outside the city and late at night, so the soldiers could seize him without the crowds’ knowledge. As he waited, he had every opportunity to flee into the forest and escape back to Galilee. There he could have lived a long, natural life. Instead, he chose to go to the cross, for us.
God has always taken the initiative to restore us to himself. He sought Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. He sought Noah, calling him to build the ark that would save the human race. He sought Abram in a land we call Iraq today. He sought Jacob on that night they wrestled together, and Moses at the burning bush, and David after the king had sinned horrifically.
Then he sought us in the most miraculous, unexpected way of all—he became one of us. He folded the glory and power which created the universe down into a fetus who grew into a baby who breathed our air, walked our dirt, faced our temptations, felt our pain, died on our cross and rose from our grave. We could not climb up to him, so he climbed down to us.
He sought fishermen beside the Sea of Galilee, tax collectors in their booths and trees, lepers in their abandoned loneliness, and demoniacs in their cemetery hideouts. He was the housekeeper who sought the lost coin, the shepherd who sought the lost sheep, the father who sought the lost son. He sought Peter after his denials, and Saul of Tarsus as he persecuted the church, and John on his prison island of Patmos.
And then the day came when he made you. Not because our planet needed another person, but because he wanted an intimate, personal relationship with you. He led me to write these words so he could use them to seek you today. So he could wash your feet and cleanse your sins and commune intimately with you.
The God of the universe is seeking you right now. Are you seeking him?