It was before the feast of the Passover. Jesus realized that his hour had come, to pass from this world to the Father; and as he had loved those who were his own in the world, he would love them with perfect love.
They were at supper, and the devil had already put into the mind of Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray him. Jesus knew that the Father had entrusted all things to him, and as he had come from God, he was going to God. So he got up from the table, removed his garment, and taking a towel, wrapped it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel he was wearing.
When he came to Simon Peter, Simon asked him, “Why, Lord, do you want to wash my feet?” Jesus said, “What I am doing you cannot understand now, but afterwards you will understand it.” Peter replied, “You shall never wash my feet!”
Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you can have no part with me.” Then Simon Peter said, “Lord, wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head!”
Jesus replied, “Whoever has taken a bath does not need to wash (except the feet), for he is clean all over. You are clean, though not all of you.” Jesus knew who was to betray him; because of this he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
When Jesus had finished washing their feet, he put on his garment again, went back to the table, and said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Master and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I, then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you also must wash one another’s feet. I have given you an example, that as I have done, you also may do.
Foot washing, a symbol of cleansing oneself of evil spirits, is an age old ritual common among different religions. Muslims, Hindus, Amish and Mennonite practice it too. Moses and Joshua, appearing before the Lord, were obliged to take off their shoes; they were on “holy ground.” Praying on holy ground requires washed feet and spiritual cleanliness. Feet become dusty, especially in the regions of ancient Palestine, where people wore sandals. The peasants often went around barefoot. Foot washing is done by servants for their master, wives and children out of love wash respectively their husbands’ and fathers’ feet.
Now, I could no longer cut my toenails due to old age and neuropathy, a podiatrist has to do it for me. We need each other’s service for well-being; this requires humility. Jesus had to wash the apostles’ feet (Jesus was doing a servant’s role), not just to show his humility, but that they would realize their own need for humility. Peter had a misplaced humility. Following Jesus requires true humility. “Not to be encompassed by the greatest, but to let oneself be encompassed by the smallest – that is divine.” (Hyperion, J. C. F. Hölderlin)
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