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The Washing of the Feet

On the Gospel of John 13:1-15

Holy Thursday

‘They were at supper’. This is the love-feast of the Kingdom of God which Christians were to celebrate forever as a memorial of Jesus’ love. The entire farewell discourse takes place in the context of this meal. Jesus knew everything that was going to happen. He knew His Death and Resurrection were imminent. Because of this, we can be certain His words held a special tone of intimacy and love towards those whom He was about to leave. Within this setting, surrounded by those whom He had chosen and who believed in Him, Jesus gives His final teachings and institutes the Eucharist, the summit and source of the life of the Church. The disciples, however, could not comprehend what was happening before them. They still could not understand how a king is still a king even when he kneels at their feet. Jesus’ humility serves as another reminder to them that His kingdom is ‘not of this world’.

Indeed, Jesus’ action seemed to have rendered the disciples speechless. We have no reaction from anyone except Peter, who finds himself embarrassed by the situation. Nevertheless, Jesus was doing more than giving a lesson in humility that the disciples could have understood at that point. What was involved has theological implications which could not have been realised before ‘the hour’ was over. Before the passion, Peter could only see the washing of his body, but after the resurrection he will realise that it was on Calvary that Jesus did the humble work of washing sins away. All Christians will experience the effects of this in the washing of Baptism. All Christians experience cleansing from sin each time they receive the sacrament of reconciliation. Peter would rather fight with Jesus and die for Jesus, but he is gradually led to see how the opposite is the case. He needs Jesus to fight and die for him, to raise him from the level of ‘below’, to the realm where Jesus can give him a part in his mission to all the world.

To enter God’s kingdom means allowing Jesus to wash away our sins and evaluate us to the level where God’s love operates in our lives. However, not all disciples will go forth in His name. Judas’ feet were washed, but he did not enter into the meaning of Jesus’ act of humility and love. He had not allowed himself to be freed through forgiveness, and so, remained in the world of power and manipulation. Jesus could have dealt with His deviant disciple, but instead, accepted His betrayal. Jesus knew that it was a Passover, not a ‘death’, which faced Him. Although we clearly see the malice of Judas who fails to respond to this demonstration of love, it is more important that we recognise the goodness of Christ. Jesus reaches out beyond malice by washing Judas’ feet along with the faithful disciples. Indeed, Jesus treats Judas as a friend right up to the moment of betrayal. Within this passage, Our Lord promises that if we imitate humility, even before those who may have wronged us, we will find true happiness.

 

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