Washing Away Our Sins

Holy Thursday

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

…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 13:15)

An act that seems so undignified
Can bring about reconciliation,
Nothing washes off the sin of pride
As humble service and submission.

Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that His hour had come to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved His own in the world, He loved them to the end. The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, 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, during supper, 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, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will understand later.” Peter said, “No, you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you will have no part with me.” Simon Peter replied, “Then, Lord, not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their 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 every one 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)


One can only wonder why none of the synoptic Gospels included this poignant moment of the last supper in their own narratives. Maybe the other Gospel writers Matthew, Mark and Luke considered this last act of Jesus for His apostles too humiliating to be believed. Can one imagine the Messiah, the King of kings going down on His knees to wash the feet of His servants?! Unbelievable! But so were the insults and injustices heaped upon Jesus, culminating in His crucifixion in Calvary.

Only the evangelist John, who was also the most beloved of all the apostles could write with such candor, clarity and accuracy, since he was the only one among them who witnessed everything that happened to His Master up to the very end of His life in Calvary. Only the most beloved clearly understood the most important message that the Lord wanted to impart to them (and to all Christians) in washing the feet of His apostles: that humility is the most important virtue that we all must learn and desire, just as its opposite, pride is the most destructive sin that must be avoided. Recall that even at their last supper with Jesus, the apostles were arguing about who among them should be regarded as the greatest, prompting Jesus to tell them, “Let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant” (Luke 22:24,26).

The washing of the apostles’ feet was also a symbolic act, instituting the sacrament of Penance. Jesus was washing away their sins in preparation for receiving Him in the first Holy Eucharist that He also instituted at the Last Supper. He took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ”This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19). That is why it has become a Catholic tradition to cleanse ourselves first of sins committed by going to confession before receiving our Lord in Holy Communion.

As we commemorate the great sacrifice of love that our Lord Jesus Christ performed for our salvation, let us resolve to follow His example by humbly serving others with love as our sole motivation. A simple act of assisting an elderly climb the stairs, or giving a hungry stranger some money for a meal may not be as dramatic as washing somebody’s feet today, but small acts of charity have a way of growing, and who knows one day, God may give you the boldness and opportunity to do the same.

Heavenly Father, grant us the humility to obey our Lord Jesus Christ to “wash one another’s feet” as an example of love and service for us to follow. We do believe that if only more people would set aside their pride and self-esteem, love, understanding and peace will finally reign here on earth. This is our prayer in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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