This material was first published by Redemptorist Publications
and is included here with their permission.
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Thaddeus watches as Jesus kneels before him. Like Peter, he wants to back away saying “Lord, you will never wash my feet” but he knows Jesus would reply to him as he did to Peter, “unless I wash you, you have no share with me” and he so wants to share life with Jesus.
Before Jesus called him to join his group of friends Thaddeus, a young man with no family or wealth of his own, was the servant of a land owner in Galilee. His had been an inferior position and it regularly fell to him to wash the feet of visitors to the house. How he hated that task and how much he longed for freedom from the humiliation of it.
Now Jesus smiles up at him and Thaddeus, embarrassed and afraid, finds the courage to look into the eyes of this man who knows him so well in all his weakness, sadness and insecurity. He sees only love, acceptance and reassurance as he feels also the gentle cleansing touch of loving hands soothing the rough and painful places on his hot, tired feet and in his aching heart.
There is a great difference between something that is done by a servant out of duty and something that is done by a friend out of love. That difference is what Thaddeus and the other disciples experience so dramatically at this supper with Jesus.
John describes a meal taking place before the Passover festival and his account contains no reference to Jesus giving bread and wine to his disciples. Instead we have a vivid and dramatic account of Jesus once again doing the unexpected and astounding his followers.
The menial task of washing the feet of guests to a house would normally be carried out by the lowliest of servants or slaves. It was a sign of hospitality which was both necessary and welcome after a walk on the hot and dusty roads which coated sweaty feet in dirt. We can imagine that men arriving at a friend’s house for a meal would be greeting each other, talking, laughing, certainly not paying attention to whoever it was who cleaned their feet. They probably took very little notice of the washing – it was just a familiar routine with nothing to notice about it.
Until now. Suddenly Jesus, as he has done so often before, transforms an ordinary everyday event into something significant, something that is symbolic of life in the kingdom of God.
The disciples can only watch as their Lord and Teacher takes on the role of the servant and washes their feet in a way that means they have to take notice and think about what is being done to them and what difference that will make in their lives.
Perhaps they know that from tonight whenever their feet are washed they will see their Lord in the servant who washes and if they themselves have to offer that service they will do so as they would offer it to Jesus, in love and with humility.
Jesus resumes his place as Lord and Teacher saying, “I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you”. He also gives his great new commandment to his disciples, and to us: “Love one another just as I have loved you.” It’s not an easy commandment to obey but it does give us a “golden rule” for our discipleship.
In experiencing the washing of his feet by Jesus, his Lord, Thaddeus received healing for his bruised heart and soul. Love and gratitude would lead him to offer that love to others so that they too might experience that healing.
Once we have known what it is to receive the love of Christ and to be ministered to in His name surely we will know that the only adequate way in which to respond is by loving. His love and service are offered freely and graciously with no demand for payment or reward. In the light of that generous love can we do anything else but pass that love and service on to others so that they too will experience it for themselves?
However Jesus has touched us, healed us and restored us his prayer for us is that in love and gratitude we too will reach out in a similar way to those in similar need and bring his love into their lives too.
1. Jesus assumes the role of a servant in order to demonstrate to his disciples what it is to love in the kingdom of God.
2. Jesus commands his disciples to follow his example and to love as he has loved them.
3. We receive God’s love given graciously and freely.
4. We are called to pass on that love in the same way as a loving response to all that God has given us.