John 13.1-17, 31b-35
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord – and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.’
When [Judas] had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
Simon Peter said: Lord, are you going to wash my feet?
Every year, on Maundy Thursday, clergy across the world get down on their knees and wash the feet of those who gather in worship. In this single act of loving service they are given the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to emulate Christ’s love and service. But, such loving service is a two-way transaction that often causes problems.
In our reading today we hear of Peter’s reluctance to receive Jesus’ subservient and loving ministry. Peter’s reluctance is emulated to this day in those who claim that the washing of their feet by another is embarrassing or mutually demeaning. However, the act of foot-washing is a gift that is offered freely and openly, no strings attached. In expressing a reluctance to accept that gift we are impugning the motives of the one who gives by applying our own sceptical standards to the way in which we do, or do not, receive.
Jesus washes his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper; the meal on that day took place on the eve of his execution. During the course of that meal, Jesus also gave us a new commandment: Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. The full extent of the words, ‘Just as I have loved you,’ will not become apparent until we see him hanging on the cross, but even the humble act of foot-washing gives a depth of meaning that challenges the way in which we live out our daily lives.
Jesus came to earth because of God’s love for humanity. Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus taught, preached, healed and worked wondrous signs. The whole of Jesus’ earthly ministry was one of divine love. As the moment of his execution drew near he demonstrated the way in which we should carry on his mission in a world that is dominated by human greed and self-interest. We are called to both literally and metaphorically get down on our knees and wash the feet of those amongst whom we live. We are also called to demonstrate a love that gives without any hope of being matched or returned.
Let us pray that we might be given the humility and sense of perspective that allows us to humbly serve, to love generously and to sacrifice self in the name of Jesus Christ today and every day.