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"Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos" ("A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you"), the statement by Jesus in the Gospel of John (13:34) by which Jesus explained to the Apostles the significance of his action of washing their feet.
Today is bath day for Catholics all around the world. Holy Thursday, the Last Supper and the washing of the feet. Jesus uses the last few hours on earth to teach a lesson of humility and love. A lesson that any man finds hard to learn, a lesson in how to be a servant to others.
Picture the setting, Jesus and his friends reclining at table in the upper room. The flame from the oil lamps flicker and the smell of the Passover meal lingers in the air. Everyone is in a good mood because they are spending time with the ones they love. Even Judas has forgotten, for the moment, what he has to do, his heart is light. A song is in the hearts of all. Yet Jesus just doesn’t seem himself today, they all notice, but they also know that He has a lot on His mind, little do they know or understand the mind of the Christ.
Now Jesus does something strange, he gets up and takes off His outer garment and puts on an apron. His friends wonder what He is doing, but let it pass, Jesus seems to always be doing something they don’t understand. Jesus walks over to the water jug and fills a smaller vessel with water. Grabbing the vessel and a basin he walks to John, the one He loved, kneeling down before John he smiles and gently grabs Johns ankle and unties and removes is sandal. With tenderness and love that could be felt and seen by all Jesus began to wash the feet of John. The others looked on in disbelief, asking “What is the master doing?” “Do we not have servants to do this?”. Jesus just smiled and tenderly continued. With such care and tenderness that no man could ever posses, Jesus completed His task than moved on to the next.
Peter spoke the words all were feeling as Peter always seems to have a way of doing. “No Lord you will not wash mine” yet Jesus knowing the heart of Peter looked him in the eyes and said in a soft yet firm voice of a caring parent to a stubborn child “If I do not wash your feet you will have no part of me”. Peter gave a look of bewilderment and responded “Than not only my feet but all of me”. Jesus smiled the smile he only gave to Peter and continued at His task.
The story of the washing of the feet is familiar to all of us, it is a story we hear every year and a story used by educators and speakers to talk about service and servanthood. Yet have many of us really put ourselves into the story? Have we really tried to imagine what it would have been like to have the Son of God washing our feet?
The concept of washing feet is an odd concept for us to begin with, the custom is lost on us in our modern world. But in the days of Jesus it was common place. Jesus lived in a desert and walked everywhere, thus the feet became dusty and hot. When a guest entered your house you would have a servant wash there feet to clean and comfort them. We even have a story in the Bible were Jesus’ feet were not washed, as was the custom, and a woman washed them for him with her tears. The washing of feet was not an odd act to perform but rather a customary act. The oddity of the act that Jesus performed was the fact that he was not a servant but rather the master.
The reactions of the apostles must have been comical at first than one of shock and finally one of indigent such as Peter shown. But Jesus continued to teach the lesson, using Peters oh so perfect human response to teach an even deeper lesson. Peter represented humanity in the simple statement. He meant no disrespect, on the contrary, he was trying to show Jesus the ultimate respect. Peter was probably thinking the whole time “Why do the others let the Lord, the Son of God wash their feet, have they no respect for the Son of man?” Yet it was Peters rejection of the humility that was disrespectful. Oh the confusion Peter must have felt at that moment.
Peter must have had the deer-in-the-headlights look on his face when Jesus to ld him either I wash your feet or you have no part of me. The incomprehensibleness of the whole thing. God himself washing the feet of a sinner, the sinless cleansing the sinner.
Jesus was teaching an act of humility and Peter took it to its end, “Wash all of me than Lord”. This is what we should be asking of Christ, to not only wash our feet but to wash all of us. To cleanse the body and sprit. To wash away all sin and inequities to make us anew. Peter, in his simple statement of protest than acceptance summed up mans life. We reject the Lord and with Gods grace we accept the Lord.
Yet Jesus was teaching even more than that, He was also teaching us that we too must be servants to others that we too must wash the feet of our fellow man and we to must submit to the rejection and acceptance in a humility required of a servant.
Jesus knew that in four days time he would have suffered died and risen to new glory and that the humiliation of washing feet would be seen as a glorification. Jesus understood that Peters words would soon take on a new meaning a new life that even Peter would not fully comprehend. Jesus understood the significance of washing the feet of His persecutor in the likeness of Judas. Jesus understood the yesterday, today and tomorrow of His actions. The fulfillment of the prophesies and the promises of the future.
Lord Jesus, On this Holy Thursday
I ask that you show me how to be humble
Teach me to wash the feel of my loved ones
And give me courage to wash the feet of my enemies
Jesus, Son of the living God
Wash not only my feet
But my head and hands also
Jesus, my humble Master
Wash all of me with your tender heart
|Letters to My Brother Priests: Complete Collection of Holy Thursday Letters (1979-
|Psalm 14:1“[For the director of music. Of David.] The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.”
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