Let the Lord Wash Your Feet
Exodus 12: 1-8, 11-14
1 Corinthians 11: 23-26
John 13: 1 – 15
Today, we remember the first Holy Thursday of history, when Jesus gathers his disciples to
celebrate the Passover. It is then He inaugurates the new Passover of the new Covenant when his
sacrifice is offered for our salvation.
Along with Eucharist is to be perpetuated. He chooses men to share his sacred ministry by the
laying on of hands. He appoints them to renew in his name the sacrifice of our redemption as
they set before your family his paschal meal. He calls them to lead your people in love, nourish
them by your word, and strengthen them through the sacraments.
And that very same Thursday, Jesus gives us his new commandment of love. Love one another
as I have loved you, so you must love one another (Jn 13:34). Before, love was based upon the
expected reward in return, or upon the fulfillment of an imposed norm. Now, Christian love is
based upon Christ. He loves us to the point of giving his life. This must be the measure of the
disciple’s love and the signal, the characteristic of Christian recognition.
However, man has no capacity to love like this. It is not simply the fruit of an effort but God’s
wonderful gift. Fortunately, He is Love and at the same time source of love that we received
through the Eucharistic Bread. Finally, today we should mull over the washing of the feet. With
a servant’s attitude, Jesus washes the Apostles feet, and He recommends them to wash one
another’s feet. There is something more than a lesson in humility in the Master’s gesture. It is
like an anticipation life a symbol of his passion, of the humiliation He has to suffer to save all
The attitude of our littleness bowing down in front of the great is not yet an attitude of humility.
It is simply, an attitude to truth. But when the great bows down before our littleness that is true
humility. This is why Jesus Christ is really humble. Before this humble Christ our usual patterns
shatter. Jesus Christ turn human values over while inviting us to follow him to build a better and
different world based on service.
Thanks be to God for the gift of Priesthood! As we celebrate this Mass of the Lord’s Supper
we give thanks to God for the Priesthood and the Eucharist. The Priesthood was born during the
Last Supper, as Pope John Paul II reminded us. There were many priests in the Old Covenant but
there is one Priest, Christ, in the New Covenant and he has extended his priestly ministry to his
ordained priests. Scripture is very clear that Jesus is the Priest of the New Covenant. A priest is
someone who offers sacrifice. There were many animals sacrificed in the Old Covenant by the
Jewish priests, but there is one sacrifice offered in the New Covenant, the sacrifice of Jesus in his
priestly offering of himself on the cross. Scripture talks of Christ’s death as a sacrifice because he
is the Priest of the New Covenant; “Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial
offering to God” (Eph 5:2) “you were ransomed…with the precious blood of Christ as of a
spotless unblemished lamb.” (1 Pet 1:18-19) During Mass that one sacrifice of Jesus as the Priest
of the New Covenant is extended to us through time and made present to us. There is not a new
sacrifice of Jesus on the cross during every Mass; it is the same one sacrificial offering of Jesus
as Priest on Calvary but extended through time, as in a time warp in a movie, and made present
to us now.
We have just listened to an excerpt of the account of the Last Supper in John’s Gospel. It
described Jesus washing the feet of his apostles (John 13:1-15). That is only part of John’s
account of the Last Supper; John’s account concludes with Jesus’ Priestly Prayer in John 17.
During that prayer to the Father, Jesus prays for the apostles, “Consecrate them in the truth.”
(John 17:17) Jesus is praying that they be interiorly changed by the truth, that they become like
Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). Jesus is praying that they become
sanctified, transformed by the truth. It really carries the connotation that they are being ordained
by Christ as his priests.
The name of God, Yahweh, was so holy for the Jews that they could not even pronounce it
when reading the Scriptures. Instead they said “Adonai.” But the high priest could whisper the
divine name Yahweh once a year during the Jewish feast Yom Kippur. Jesus, during his prayer
for the apostles at the end of the Last Supper in John, prays, “Holy Father, keep them in your
name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are. When I was with them, I
protected them in your name that you gave me…” (John 17:10-11) There is now some newness
in the relationship between the apostles and the name of God. In the Old Covenant the high priest
could pronounce Yahweh’s name once yearly, and now in the New Covenant priesthood there is
innovation in the relationship between the apostles and the name of God.
Part of the ordination rite of priests in the Old Covenant involved washing (Ex 29:4; Lev 8:6).
During the Last Supper, during which the priesthood was born and Jesus consecrated his apostles
as the priests of the New Covenant, he washed their feet. While Jesus performed this action to
teach his apostles to serve rather than be served (John 13:13-15), could we not say that it also
resembles and calls to the mind the washing that preceded the rite of ordination of priests of the
Old Covenant? Jesus said to Peter, “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will
understand later” (John 13:7) and I wonder if later they saw the footwashing in a new sense,
calling to mind the washing that was part of the rite of ordination of the Old Covenant. I think we
can say that John’s account of the Last Supper contains many hints that Jesus ordained the
apostles as priests during the Last Supper, consecration in truth, a new relationship with the name
Jesus intended that what happened at the last supper would be the shape of the church forever,
the shape of our own lives. The last supper was not just a once off event. When he had washed
feet of his disciples, he said to them, ‘Copy what I have done’. In other words, ‘Love one another
as I have loved you’. As the Lord has served and continues to serve us in love, we are to serve
one another in love. After giving the bread and cup to his disciples he said to them, ‘Do this as a
memorial of me’. What are we to do? We are to repeat the words and actions over the bread and
cup, and in doing so the Lord will continue to give himself to us under the form of bread and
wine. This is what we do when we celebrate the Eucharist. Both of those commands that Jesus
gave at the last supper are closely linked: ‘Love one another as I have loved you’, and ‘Do this as
a memorial of me’. A life of loving service flowing from the celebration of the Eucharist is at the
heart of what it means to be the Lord’s followers. At the Eucharist we receive again the Lord’s
gift of himself that he made to us on the cross, and in receiving that gift we are given the strength
to live faithfully the call to love one another as the Lord has loved us. We pray at this time of war
that the people of Ukraine especially would experience the Lord’s love in and through the loving
service of his followers.