On the Gospel of John 13:1-15
In today’s Gospel we read of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, a job that was left to the lower people, namely servants who washed the master’s feet when he returned home from being out on the dusty roads.
The washing of the feet is a very symbolic action; it shows Jesus’ humility in the service of his disciples. His action is both a prophetic and symbolical expression of what was essential in the life and suffering of Jesus, namely the love which undertakes the most humble service in order to save mankind. Upon returning from being on the roads when their feet were dirty a servant would wash the feet of those who came into the house; here there was no servant and the disciples may have argued about who should take the water and towel. So Jesus may have taken on the duty of servant; in doing so he taught them a lesson in humility and pride.
St. John has an underlying reason for the washing of the feet. Peter didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet, but if Peter didn’t then he could have no part in Christ; so Peter begs Jesus to wash him all over. There is a significant reference to baptism here. If the disciples did not get baptised then they could not be part of who Jesus is, and have no part in His Church. The symbolism of entering a house washing your feet and being clean, seems to say that we must be clean when we enter the Christian house. Therefore washing or being baptised marks an entry into the house of faith. By this washing the disciples enter into the house of faith, the Christian family, as they enter into communion with Christ through his death and resurrection. It is baptism; this bathing clean in the word of Jesus is the salvation of his disciples and is our salvation also.
Our baptism is our newness of life, our immersion into Christ’s death and resurrection, our forgiveness from sin, and casting off the old and embracing the light of Christ. When we are baptised we enter into a contract with Christ, a life-giving contract that takes away our sins. By being baptised we enter into the death of Christ, going into the water we are immersed into the experience of dying with Christ and when we return we are afresh with the rising of Christ. Jesus reminds us that the servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than those who sent them. Here Jesus could mean himself as their master or himself as a messenger sent by God. Jesus is carrying out his Father’s work; and this could also mean those who follow after Jesus; the disciples to continue on Jesus’ work when he leaves them. While as disciples, they listen and are taught by him, they must continue on his work, which begins with them being servants to each other and this too is what we must do, be at service to one another.
It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.
– John 13:1-15