A key focal point of the last supper narrative in the Gospel of John is Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. Washing feet was certainly a custom in the ancient Near East, for either people walked barefoot or wore sandals. In either event, people’s feet became quite sore and dirty getting from here to there. Washing of the feet was a hospitable way to welcome guests into one’s home, though this action was the most menial of tasks and often performed by slaves or servants.
After washing his disciples’ feet and sitting down, Jesus said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet” (Jn 13:13-14). Jesus is sharing with those who will carry on his message and ministry that they are not to feel so high and mighty in their being called to follow him. The Apostles, those who are sent by Jesus, are to look at their ministry as seeking how best to serve others, not seeking to be served themselves.
Traditionally, this evening at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, select members of the parish would have come to have a foot washed by the priests, following the model set by Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. This would remind all of us, as members of the Church that we are all an integral part of the Body of Christ. There will be no washing the feet at our parish again this year for obvious reasons. Yet the actions of Jesus that have been and will be proclaimed in the Gospel still ring as true as any bell. We are at our best when we are willing to serve, support, and lift one another up. This is to be true when all is well and rosy, in addition to when conflict and challenges arise in the messiness of our daily lives.
Pope Francis, in his homily on April 5, 2020 highlighted this same point: “Dear brothers and sisters, what can we do in comparison with God, who served us even to the point of being betrayed and abandoned? We can refuse to betray him for whom we were created, and not abandon what really matters in our lives. We were put in this world to love him and our neighbors. Everything else passes away, only this remains. The tragedy we are experiencing summons us to take seriously the things that are serious, and not to be caught up in those that matter less; to rediscover that life is of no use if not used to serve others. For life is measured by love.”
We best exemplify Jesus’ washing of the feet when we resist the allure and temptation of pride because our life is not about us. We are not the center of the universe. We need to walk away from the table presenting a buffet of the false substitutes for God: pleasure, wealth, fame and power. We are not to curve in upon ourselves either, even during this time of social distancing. Jesus has not abandoned us and he never tires of loving, forgiving, and serving us. We are called to do the same and to love and serve one another.
Pope Francis delivering his Palm Sunday homily, April 5, 2020. – Photo credit Reuters