Holy Thursday, Year A (April 1, 1999)

Let Jesus Wash Your Feet

Exogus 12:1-8,11-14 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 John 13:1-15

The story of the Last Supper between Jesus and his disciples is told very differently in John's Gospel and in the other three Gospels. Whereas the other Gospels pay great attention to the Eucharistic words of Jesus "Take and eat, this is my body,... Take and drink, this is my blood,... Do this in memory of me," John's gospel focuses rather on the symbolic action of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. In our Holy Thursday celebration we recall the two events: Jesus washing the feet of his disciples and Jesus instituting the Eucharist. We also celebrate the institution of the priesthood because by commissioning his apostles to do this in memory of him, Jesus grants them the power to celebrate the Eucharist. Following the gospel reading, however, our reflection today shall focus on the washing of feet. What is the meaning of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples?

Life in Palestine in the time of Jesus was hard. The popular means of transport was your feet. People walked long distances on rough, dusty roads to go from Galilee to Jerusalem, for example. Travellers often arrived their destinations with sore and aching feet. As a sign of hospitality, the host would immediately see to it that his guest were given a warm foot bath and massage as a way of relieving their aches and pains. This was usually done by the house servants or slaves.

This service of bathing and soothing the tired feet was also provided by the rest houses or inns found at strategic locations along the major roads and highways. Travellers worn out along the way could go into these rest houses and have food and foot bath. Their energy thus restored they would then be able to continue and complete their long journey. That is how such rest houses along the way got the name "restaurants" - they restore strength to tired and exhausted travellers on the way. The disciples would have understand Jesus washing their feet in light of this cultural background. And for us it is a pointer to the meaning of the Eucharist which we celebrate every Sunday.

Understood in light of the washing of feet, the Eucharist could be seen a place of restoration for people on the way. The life of a Christian in the world is a pilgrimage, a long, hard journey. Along the way we are tired and worn out and we are tempted to give up. But Jesus has given us the Eucharist as a place where we can go in to bathe our aching feet and to be refreshed in body and soul for the journey that is still ahead. When we give communion to a sick person we call it viaticum which simply means "provisions for a journey". In the Eucharist we derive strength to continue our upward journey toward God.

In the story we find that Peter was uncomfortable having Jesus wash his feet. He would have preferred to wash his own feet. In this way Peter represents the many men and women of our time who are uncomfortable with the Mass. Instead they would prefer New Age meditation and Yoga - a sort of do-it-yourself spirituality where they are always in control. But what Jesus wants from us is simply to allow him to wash us, to allow him to feed us. Many people when they come to church seem to pay too much attention to the person of the priest. But it is not the priest who is giving you his body and blood; it is Jesus who is giving his body and blood, and both you and the priest are equally on the receiving end. Jesus invites us all today to surrender to him, to let go, to let him wash us and we shall be clean, and we shall be strong. Let us today thank Jesus for this amazing grace and let us go about washing the feet of our brothers and sisters, fellow pilgrims who might be having problems along the way to God.

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