In the account of the Passion and death of Jesus, St John highlights the KINGLY identity of Jesus much more than the other three Evangelists. Far from being a passive victim of events, he is very much the one in control. Our Gospel this evening begins with Jesus’ total awareness of what lies ahead of him and his words and actions at this time are all done with an awareness of the storm that is about to engulf all of them in the coming hours.
Up to now – to the end of Chapter 12 – Jesus spoke publicly but now he moves into an encounter with his closest friends, the disciples, and explains to them all that was about to happen and why it must be so. But, even with his explanation, when the storm of his Passion and death broke upon them they still failed to understand. Most likely they did not fully understand it all until the descent of the Holy Spirit.
In the Gospel of John we do not have an ‘institution of the Eucharist’ narrative as Matthew, Mark and Luke have. John concentrates on an other way of understanding the meaning of the Eucharist. Through washing the feet of his disciples, Jesus shows the same total self-giving that he offers in the Eucharist and on the Cross.
There are two phrases in the Gospel which I want to draw your attention to:
“Jesus 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…”
In John 12 there is the anointing of Jesus on the feet, reminding us of his imminent death. But here it is Jesus who is ‘anointing’ – washing – the feet of his disciples. But this washing indicates the purification that his death is to gain for his disciples and, by extension, all of humankind. Through his death we are saved!
“You will never wash my feet...”
Speak to any priest and he will tell you how difficult it often is to get people for this part of the Holy Thursday ceremony? How many people drew back from allowing the priest to wash their feet? I know this to be so from my own experience. But why should people react like that?
There is a sense of unworthiness and discomfort about allowing someone to wash your feet. About letting someone do something so undignified to us.
In our community in Blackrock Road we have several priests who need assistance for their daily living, due either to advancing years or to illness. I have no doubt that many of them find it hard to allow the Nurses / Carers ‘invade your privacy’ in order to help them.
But can I suggest that such actions are an invitation to each of us, on a more spiritual plane, to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. And when we are vulnerable before the Lord we are filled with his spirit. Jesus reminds us that we must become like little children, and vulnerable little children rely on their parents to feed, clothe, wash them etc.
We too, in the washing of feet, present our vulnerability to the Lord. And, thankfully, He does not betray us or take advantage of our vulnerability but, rather, embraces us lovingly.
Tonight we, sinners and saints, or should I say – part-saint, part-sinner – are invited to allow God to minister to us, to accept ourselves as we are, beloved daughters and sons of God for whom Jesus laid down his life.
We are invited in the Holy Thursday Liturgy
- to be fed with the Body and Blood of Christ, giving us strength for our journey;
- to be healed of our brokenness;
- to acknowledge and be forgiven of our sins;
- and to walk humbly with our God.