As we reflect on the readings from our celebration this evening we see Jesus’ actions in 2 key areas:
- The Institution of the Eucharist, and
- The Washing of the Disciples feet
The Institution of the Eucharist, which we hear about in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians(1 Cor. 11.23-26), is the fulfillment of the Passover meal, which we hear about in the book of Exodus(12.1-8, 11-14). Just as the firstborn of the Israelites was spared by the blood of the Passover lamb, so Jesus is for us as baptized Christians the Passover lamb who saves us, for all time, from the death of our sins. He draws us into eternal life with him, by his sacrifice. In the words of Pope Benedict, “The Institution of the Eucharist demonstrates how Jesus’ death, for all it’s violence and absurdity, became in him a supreme act of love and mankind’s definitive deliverance from evil.” –Sacramentum Caritatis
This is what we celebrate every time we partake of the Eucharist. Jesus gives His body, as the priest speaks(in the person of Christ), “This is my Body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me”, “This cup is the new covenant in my Blood. Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” This is the Institution of the Eucharist; the Last Supper, the first celebration of the Holy Mass.
Just prior to this Last Supper Jesus actually washes the feet of his apostles(John 13.1-15). He is on the dusty, dirty floor with a basin, a bowl, water, and towel. He washes what would have been the dirtiest part of a person, in those days. They would have walked across dirt and sand long distances in sandals. The Son of God washed those dirty feet, taking the place of where a servant or slave would have been instructed to be. The apostles would have been stunned at this act of humility and condescension, when it was proper that they should have washed his feet.
We live in a culture today that is very ME focused; what do I need? I will do what I want and I desire. I will do what feels good for me.
How do we flip this culture to what Jesus is trying to teach us in the gospel? It will take a changing of our perspective, our expectations, and our attitude. Jesus’ attitude of servanthood was in direct contrast to that of the disciples, who had recently been arguing among themselves as to which of them was the greatest(Luke 22.24). Since there was no servant present among them it would have never occurred to them to wash one another’s feet.
It is by Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet that he calls them, into his priesthood, to do the same for others and to be servants of all. His call is also for us, “I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” How do we practically do this as his followers?
[As parents we do this often when we help our child when it is not easy. As workers we do this often when we drop our ego and give credit to someone else’s good idea. When we reach out to a co-worker we may not care for and talk to them. When we smile and offer a helping hand. As strangers we do this often when we smile at a stranger, offer to help carry something for them or help in any way.
As children of God we do this when we help the least of our brother and sisters. When we do something that we don’t want to but know it will help someone else, when we put someone else’s needs before our own.]*
We can wash another’s feet but we have to change our focus, to be centered on others rather than centered on self. We can start today, by finding one way to wash another’s feet, then two tomorrow, and three the next day. It will become easier as we grow and, even if it means getting dirty or uncomfortable, we will learn this beautiful lesson Jesus was trying to teach all those years ago.
*[Practical suggestions for washing others’ feet adapted from Theresa Vogel]