Why did Jesus wash his disciples’ feet?
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.
Was it a parable in action? Like the occasion when Jesus put a small child in their midst; exhorting them to childlike humility; not worldly ambition. “I give you a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you”. The earlier Gospels, Mark, Luke and Matthew had stressed that we should love God and our neighbour; indeed, we should love our neighbour as we love ourselves. John, the last of the evangelists, raises the stakes. Our love for one another should be patterned on Jesus’ love for us. This is what makes the commandment “new”.
Notice John omits the command to love God. If we love one another with the sincerity that Jesus loved us, God is truly loved. Elsewhere John simply says God is love. Love became human and loved us. When we join in this movement of love, love is complete.
When Christ washed his disciples’ feet, doing the dirty work expected of servants, this was a parable, a moment of teaching. But it was more than a parable. It involved a loving encounter with the feet of the one who was about to betray him; Judas. It involved trying to steady a fragile disciple: Peter.
Can we, fragile that we are, accept the challenging message of the washing of the feet? Christlike, unconditional love of others: not categorising, despising and destroying but accepting and loving until it hurts. We go beyond the foot-washing to the words of the Eucharist. Baptised, we all proclaim the death of the Lord. That is, we die with him. We will fulfil our vows to the Lord. Here the going gets tough. We receive the bread of life. We drink the cup of salvation. We rejoice in the Eucharist as food for the journey; not a reward for good boys/ good girls but the food we all need because we are sinners.