Today, Good Friday, I went into Jacksonville to meet with a small group of friends for coffee. Afterward, I wandered through downtown waiting for a used bookstore to open. In that part of downtown near the bookstore is a plaza where a good number of our homeless population hang out. It's a nice park, clean and one of the best spots to host events downtown. Daytime food trucks and music groups make an inviting environment to enjoy coffee or lunch at a table or on a bench. Some people complain that the homeless people detract from the central park ambience and efforts have been made to clear the park of the so-called undesirables but I think the mix of people works fine. Yesterday on Maundy Thursday some people from local churches showed up to hand out bag lunches and wash feet. Homeless people were invited to have their feet washed and to wash others including the ones who had come to serve in this way. It was awkward, and uncomfortable for all and beautiful in other ways is how one of my friends who was there described it. Church people in the South don't seem to celebrate Maundy Thursday or Good Friday much. Easter productions are the big thing. Certainly, a foot washing in the central park is uncommon.
More common was crucifixion in Roman occupied territories at the time of Jesus. It was not unusual at all to witness a person being crucified. That's the way Rome dealt with their political prisoners. Someone crucified outside the city of Jerusalem probably deserved it. It was no place for a religious leader to wind up. No one stood up for Jesus that first Good Friday. The gospel writers give us the details: Jesus was spit at, beaten, mocked, forced to wear a crown of thorns and carry his cross to Golgotha, the place of the the skull. This was no successful messiah. This was a man who was going to die for his delusions. His supporters had deserted him. Who could blame them?
Jesus was about as welcome as a homeless person in a downtown park. No one washed his feet or even gave him something to quench his thirst. Nothing was done to diminish his suffering.
Since that day Christian thinkers have come up with all kinds of theories of why Jesus died on that cross, how his death worked for our benefit. Most Christians have come to believe that somehow, some way, that death worked out for the good, for our salvation. So, we have Good Friday. While the theories are elaborate - how to explain something like this - the result seems simple: Jesus died for my sins.
A few hours before Jesus was crucified he hosted a dinner for some of his friends. During the dinner, he washed his friends feet. This act, if it was done at all, was ordinarily done by a servant. It was out of place for the leader of the group to assume the servant's role. As out of place as God on a cross or people some homeless, some not, washing each other's feet in a public park at lunchtime.