Holy Week Reflection: Understanding

“What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.”  — John 13:7

Yesterday, as I was driving to work, I was being led in prayer by pray-as-you-go.org. A friend referred me to the site a couple weeks ago and I’ve found it perfect for my morning drive — a little music, a Scripture reading and a few questions for reflection. I start it in the morning before I shift my pickup into drive and pull away from the curb, and by the time I’m entering the community in which I work, I’m joining in the closing prayer, usually the Doxology.

Yesterday’s Scripture reading was the gospel from the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, John 13:1-15. Jesus is washing his disciples’ feet, and Peter — being Peter — objected. I would venture to guess that if the Myers-Briggs had been around back then, and Peter had taken it, he would have been an ENTJ — one of those natural leaders, quick to see patterns and to take charge, quicker to voice opinions and ready to plan for the future. At least, that’s the Peter I see in the gospels: first to verbalize his belief that Jesus was the Messiah (Matt.16:16), quick to make the offer of tents when privileged with the vision of Jesus with Moses and Elijah (Matt. 17:1-4). But, like all leaders, he was not always right — because like all of us, he was human.

As often as I’ve heard this gospel and read it, I’ve never before been struck by what Jesus said to Peter when he objected to having his feet washed. “You don’t have all the information, Peter. You are making a decision based on what you know, but you will learn more in the future which will enable you to understand why I am doing this. Just trust me for now.”

OK, that’s a very loose paraphrase of what Jesus said to Peter, but that’s what I heard as I was listening to the gospel, heard with my heart rather than my ears. And then, the Lord tacked on, “And that goes for you, too, Mary.” A verse from I Corinthians 13 flitted through my mind almost simultaneously: “At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known” (v.12).

“Ah, yes,” I thought, “we know in part.”

As I had dressed yesterday, I’d been thinking about work. I knew I had handled my piece, in what I’d seen weeks earlier as a no-win situation, with as much grace as possible, but I derived no satisfaction from seeing matters unravel. I strive for win-win resolutions whenever possible, but I’d not been in a position to exert any influence when decisions were being made. I was simply being swept along by the inevitable turbulence of conflicting expectations, and not in any way enjoying the white water experience.

We know in part. With those few words, I was reminded how often 20/20 hindsight has revealed to me the way in which God was working in the difficult situations of my life — or the way he used those experiences in wondrous ways.

I remembered the night hope sparked in the eyes of the women in my journal-writing workshop as I shared with the class of inmates stories about some of the violence I had experienced in my life. I could see them thinking, “If it didn’t beat her, it doesn’t have to beat me. I can build a better life for myself, too.” I went home that night and thanked God for my dad’s hand across my face, his leather razor strap across my back. I thanked God for the kick my ex-husband leveled at my stomach when I was pregnant and the choker of bruises his hands left around my throat. That pain had been transformed into a gift the moment I knew others had been given hope by knowing I’d walked in their shoes.

I remembered other difficult work situations, other difficult life situations, and the grace I’d received with insights gained years later. I knew in that moment God was asking me to trust him; asking me to say, “Thy will be done;” asking me to forgive those whose decisions had caused such turmoil for me. Jesus was attempting to wash my feet. He had told his disciples when sending them out, “Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words — go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet” (Matt10:14). If our lives are to  be our witness, then we, too, must have the grace to simply walk away when our presence is not considered desirable. Jesus was offering to help me walk away, encouraging me to be at peace in doing so.

I experienced all this in far less time than it has taken me to write about it — in the briefest of spaces between spoken words. But, even with this new understanding, I knew no more about God’s plan than I had before listening to the gospel, no more than Peter knew about the night and the future which lay before him when he objected to having his feet washed by Jesus. I was, however, comforted.

Throughout the day, I kept returning to that phrase — “we know in part” — and appreciating anew the mysterious way in which God works. God gives us our lives one day at a time. Like Peter, we want to take charge, we want to decide how things should be done. But like Peter, we can never fully understand what God is doing in our lives. We can only trust him, as Jesus — in his full humanity — trusted our loving Father that night as he knelt before Peter and each of the disciples, knowing what was to come.