The Washing of the Feet - A Maundy Thursday Reflection
-from We Need Each Other, by Jean Vanier
The Washing of the Feet
Fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, he rose from supper and took off his outer garments.
He took a towel and tied it around his waist.
Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist.
So when he had washed their feet he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am.
If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.
I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” (from John 13)
They were all seated, sharing a meal, when Jesus suddenly stood up and took off his clothes. He took off his garments, and you can almost imagine the apostles looking at each other asking, “What is he doing?”
Jesus was, as usual, wearing a long robe, under which he had a sort of shirtlike garment called a tunic that normally went down to the knees. Jesus took off this top robe, poured water into a basin, and then began to wash the feet of his disciples. They could not understand what was happening—Jesus taking off his clothes in the middle of a meal!
We begin to discover who Jesus is. Jesus loves us utterly; he knows that we are afraid of being loved, afraid of love, and that we are afraid of God. The entire message of Jesus is to tell us: “Do not be afraid.” Jesus knew that the next day he would be killed, assassinated like Martin Luther King Jr., Oscar Romero, Mahatma Gandhi, Roger Schultz, and others. Humanity has had a history of killing men and women who speak the truth, call people to love, and proclaim that love is more important than power. They have all been killed. We all know that the history of humanity is frequently a history of dictators who impose power and crush people. Jesus came to show humanity something different. He came to call people forth: to help them stand up and to create community, places where we can love each other. This is the work of our extraordinarily humble and vulnerable Jesus.
When you love someone deeply, you want to be close to them. If that person says, “No, I do not want to have any contact with you,” your heart will surely be wounded. We have all had the experience of loving someone who turned away from us. This is what happens with Jesus: he loves us, wants to liberate us, wants to help us grow and to continue his mission of love in this world. Instead, we turn away.
Go and do likewise
Once Jesus finished washing the feet of the disciples and put his clothes back on, he sat down and said: “Do you understand what I have done? You called me Lord and Master, and so I am. If I have washed your feet, you must wash each other’s feet. I have done this as an example for you.”
This is the only place in the Gospel where Jesus says, “I have done this as an example. What I have done to you, you must do one to another.” Then he said, “Amen, amen, I say to you. The servant is not more important than the master. The one who is sent is not more important than the one who sends. If I have done this for you, you must do this one to another. Know this: if you do it, your action will become a benediction for you.”
Jesus loves us so much that he kneels in front of us so that we may begin to trust ourselves. As Jesus washes our feet, he is saying, “I trust you and I love you. You are important to me.” Jesus kneeling in front of each one is saying, “You are precious. You are important, and I want you to trust yourself because you can do beautiful things for the kingdom. You can give life; you can bring peace. I want you to discover how important you are, and all I am asking is that you believe in yourself because you are a beloved child of God.”