Washing the Feet of the Disciples

"Let us cast a glance at the great drama that Saint John has unfolded in the thirteenth chapter of his Gospel – in the story of the washing of the disciples’ feet. In this scene, the evangelist sums up, as it were, the whole of Jesus’ message, his life, and his Passion. He, who is Lord, comes down to us; he lays aside the garments of glory and becomes a slave, one who stands at the door and who does for us the slave’s service of washing our feet. This is the meaning of his whole life and Passion: that he bends down to our dirty feet, to the dirt of humanity, and that in his greater love he washes us clean. The slave’s service of washing the feet was performed in order to prepare a person suitably for sitting at table, to make him reading for company, so that all could sit down together for a meal. Jesus Christ prepares us, as it were, for God’s presence and for each other’s company, so that we can sit down together at table. We, who repeatedly find we cannot stand one another, who are quite unfit to be with God, are welcomed and accepted by Him. He clothes himself, so to speak, in the garment of our poverty, and in being taken up by him, we are able to be with God. We are washed through our willingness to yield to his love. The meaning of this love is that God accepts us without preconditions, even if we are unworthy of his love, incapable of relating to him, because he, Jesus Christ, transforms us and becomes a brother to us.

Certainly, John’s account shows us that even where God sets no limits, man can sometimes do so. Two such instances appear here. The first becomes apparent in the figure of Judas: There is the No stemming from greed and lust, from vainglory, which refuses to accept God. This is the No given because we want to make the world for ourselves and are not ready to accept it as a gift from God. I think we all ought to ask ourselves, right now, whether we are not just like those people whose pride and vainglory will not let them be cleansed, let them accept the gift of Jesus Christ’s healing love. Besides this refusal, which arises from the greed and the pride of man, there is, however, also the danger of piety, represented by Peter: the false humility that does not want anything so great as God bending down to us; the false humility in which pride is concealed, which dislikes forgiveness and would rather achieve its own purity; the false pride and the false modesty that will not accept God’s mercy. But God does not wish for false modesty that refuses his kindness; rather, he desires that humility which allows itself to be cleansed and thus become pure. This is the manner in which he gives himself to us."

- Pope Benedict XVI

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