Washing Away Our Self-Importance

Maundy Thursday

John 13: 1-15
Ex 12: 1-8, 11-14 / Ps 116 / 1 Cor 11: 23-26

Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.
(John 13:14)

Jesus has shown us how we must serve
In the essence of true leadership;
By humility we will deserve
The commission of His stewardship.

It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for Him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved His own who were in the world, He now showed them the full extent of His love. The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power, and that He had come from God and was returning to God; so He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around His waist. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to Him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray Him, and that was why He said not everyone was clean. When He had finished washing their feet, He put on His clothes and returned to His place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” He asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13: 1-15)


It is only in the Gospel account of John that we read about the ritual of washing the feet of the apostles. The Johannine interpretation of Jesus’ Passover meal differs widely in this account from the 3 Synoptic Gospels because it was written by the “apostle whom Jesus loved the most.” For the other Gospel writers, it must have been totally incongruous, if not shameful to relate the ultimate degradation that their Divine Master did, and so omitted this and gave more emphasis on the Last Supper instead. St. John, however, had no such qualms in showing how our Lord bared His humility as the essence of His love for His apostles (and for us). Genuine love means going down to the level of those we love, thus “dying to ourselves” for their sake. This was our Lord’s final act of setting “an example that you should do as I have done for you.” At the same time, it was also a symbolic act of cleansing the apostles of their sins, and preparing them for mission by undergoing a sacrifice of humiliation. And finally, for our Lord Jesus, this was but a preview of a much greater sacrifice and death that awaited Him in Calvary. He was simply priming Himself for His crucifixion.

Jesus teaches us that it is in being aware of our power and influence in the marketplace or in our community that we can assume the role of a servant. As leaders of our Brotherhood, how much “going down on our knees to wash our members’ feet” have we done to show them our love, and to be a model for them to follow? Or do we wash our hands like Pilate instead when things are going badly in our group or ministry? Today, on the eve of Christ’s passion, let us take time to reflect on our attitude towards our relationships and responsibilities to God and neighbor. How much have we sacrificed? How much have we given of ourselves to others, instead of being too concerned with our own importance? How much have we truly loved like our Lord Jesus Christ?

Help us, Father God, to be like Jesus, confident in our worth as Your children, and always willing to take on the tasks that others find debasing or undignified. Make us see that it is in acts of humility that our souls are exalted, and it is in making little sacrifices that builds up our character, in imitation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

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