Today’s reflection comes to us from Nigel Quinn
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.
2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 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.
6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
10 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.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
12 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. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
Today’s reflection is based on a well known passage from John’s Gospel. Written much later than the other Gospels, probably from Ephesus when he was an old man, John’s account of the work and life of Christ is very different in tone and content than that of the other writers. He includes no parables, and refers to only eight miracles, of which five are peculiar to his distinct narrative. In his account John provides no detail around the birth of Jesus, nor his growing up, nor his baptism, or temptation. There is good reason for this. The other more historically based accounts already included much of this material. John’s purpose was to do more than tell the story, important and even crucial though that was. His main focus is to demonstrate conclusively that Jesus is the Son of God. He sets out the position clearly in chapter 1 verse 1. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Towards the end of the book he summarises clearly his motive for writing. “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” ( chapter 20 verse 31). Today’s passage therefore needs examined within that context.
John 13 contains the story of the last supper and the washing of the disciples’ feet by Jesus which takes place during that meal. What then are we to learn from this account? Throughout the story the humility of Jesus and obvious love for his disciples is abundantly clear. The washing of the men’s feet who were gathered with Jesus turned all logic and protocol on its head. This was God in human form who had lived and laboured in close proximity to these his friends. They had seen him perform miracles, and heard his words of wisdom, and yet they still did not really understand. It should of course have been them who were kneeling at their Master’s feet, but as He often did Jesus turned perceived wisdom on its head. Indeed it was only after the washing took place that Jesus revealed there was a traitor in their midst. There is nothing in the narrative to suggest that Jesus did anything other than include Judas in the washing. What an example for us. For all who follow Jesus there is a call to servanthood. The washing of Judas’ feet by Jesus demonstrated that he had come to love and serve everyone; even those who had deception and hatred in their hearts. In these difficult days as we are trying to look out for those who are less fortunate this serves as a reminder that loving our neighbour means loving and serving anyone who has fallen into need, regardless of who they are, what they believe, or whether or not there is even an inkling of thanks or reciprocity for whatever grace we extend to them. In other words the test to be applied should be that of need, and the sharing of God’s love irrespective of the reason for that need occuring. We need to love the scoundrel as well as the saint. After all that was what Jesus did. In verse 15 he says “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you”.
Jesus is our great example, and there is no doubt that the washing of his disciples feet is an exemplary event. It is a blueprint for how we should live as servants. There is however much more contained within the story. The physical washing with water took care of the immediate need to rid the men’s feet of the dust and sweat with which they were no doubt liberally coated. Peter was initially resistant to this. Jesus’ response is absolutely central to all that John is arguing and attempting to persuade us about the person of Jesus. In verse 7 Jesus says to Peter “You do not realise now what I am doing, but later you will understand”.
What he did not understand of course was that the physical washing on that night before the first Good Friday prefigured a more important washing that was about to take place; a cleansing to be made available not with water but with blood spilt on a cross for all our sins. Peter took some persuading before he would allow the Lord to wash his feet. It is also rather like that with the good news of Easter. Some of us are unwilling or slow to respond. The washing which is available to all who take up the offer of salvation proceeds from the same person who knelt and washed the feet of His Galilean friends. The disciples feet, I am sure, became dirty again very soon. The washing away of our sins, however, is forever, and all we need to do is respond in repentance and claim what is freely available. May those who have not yet done so give the invitation serious consideration during this wonderful season of Easter.