Fr Jim Cogley
There is something very touching and even intimate about that gesture in the Gospel where Jesus washes feet of his disciples. We can just imagine him moving from one to the other with a special word for each of them that they would remember for the remainder of their lives. The wonderful thing about Scripture is that you can read a passage all your life and still see something new in it. A detail I failed for so long to see the significance of is where Jesus took off his outer garment before he washed the disciples’ feet. As he looked down at that motley crew he knew what they were made of. Judas was already plotting his betrayal, Peter within a few hours would be making oaths denying that he ever knew him and the rest of the band would be running scared in his hour of need. It is against that backdrop that we see the significance of Jesus taking off his garment. Before doing the washing of feet, which was the menial job assigned to slaves, he would first have had to let go of so much. His feelings of hurt and betrayal, disappointment, judgments and even resentment - all had to go or else he would not have been able to stoop so low.
For us there is also a stripping whenever it comes to any form of service because it’s never about us. We may have to let go of our natural self-consciousness or shyness even in doing simple acts of kindness that carry any possibility of rejection or misunderstanding. In Scripture it’s called dying to self. Letting go of judgments is a big step for all of us because we can be most intolerant of others’ mistakes shortcomings. Seeing how others need to change and being blind to how a change might need to come about in us first is also a big step. Whatever it is in us that allows what other people think to rule our lives and limit our service is our outer garment that we need to get rid of before we can be of any use to anyone else.
When Jesus comes to Peter he encounters resistance. Peter is shocked at Jesus doing what he is doing and doesn’t want him doing it. It should be the other way around. Notice what Jesus says; You don’t understand now what I am doing but very shortly you will see its significance. What was that about, ‘very shortly you will see?’ The washing was obviously cleansing and associated with forgiveness. Very shortly Peter would become very conscious of his need of Jesus forgiveness. After Jesus was arrested and Peter standing in the courtyard would lose his nerve at the thought of being guilty by association. When asked if he were one of Jesus’ followers, he began to swear that he was not and didn’t even know the man. At his third protestation the cock crew and this man who hours before had professed undying loyalty was now guilty of betrayal. As he walked away where do you think he looked? In the direction we all look when we are filled with guilt and remorse, down. As he looked down what was he looking at but his feet that a short time earlier been washed by the man he had just betrayed. In other words, Jesus by washing his feet had shown that he had already forgiven him even before he sinned. So what a wonderful gesture Jesus had performed both for him and us. What a wonderful truth that before we even sin we are already forgiven. If that is not good news I don’t know what is! All of that finds expression in the Eucharist when we say that it was on the night that he was betrayed that Jesus took the bread and the wine and gave it to us. In other words, it was in the face of betrayal that he gave himself to us so completely; what amazing, what fantastic love.