HOLY THURSDAY: What is the foot washing ceremony and why does it matter?
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Why did Jesus wash the Disciples' feet? It seems like such a humiliating task, yet it's also personal, almost intimate. That Jesus performed this task as one of His last acts on Earth delivers an important message of how we are supposed to be as Christians. Are we willing to wash the feet of our neighbors?
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Jesus washed the Disciples' feet to show that nobody is above serving their neighbor.
LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - In the ancient world, even more than now, feet were dirty things. Sandals were common dress, and they often trod unpaved streets that doubled as sewers and channels for every kind of refuse. As a result, having clean feet, especially when entering a place, was important.
The ancient world knew nothing of germs, but the understood the importance of cleanliness, as it was instructed to them in the holy texts of the time. Today, we understand the scientific basis behind the ancient rules which demanded people be clean in their interactions.
According to the Gospel, Jesus performed a final act of service for his Disciples, following the Passover meal. Arising from the table, He tied a towel about His waist and filled a basin with water. Then, one after another He washed the feet of each disciple, except Judas, who had already departed to betray Him.
When Peter protested that Jesus was about to wash his feet, Christ admonished, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me."
After washing the Disciples' feet, Jesus explained what He did and why. "You should wash one another's feet," He told them. "I have set an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them." (John 13:1-17)
The point Jesus was trying to make is already spelled out in the Scriptures, and needs little interpretation. We are to serve our neighbors, even if it means we must do things we might not like to do. Even if the work is dirty or hard, or even if we think it beneath us, we must still do our work. After all, Jesus Himself, the Son of God, washed the feet of His disciples. And we are no greater than Jesus, so surely we too should do the same.
In church, the foot washing ceremony is an important call for all people that they too should be willing to serve others. In the Catholic Church, this is called the Holy Thursday Mandatum, and the rite takes place after the homily. Members of the congregation are chosen to sit and have their feet washed by the priest, who plays the role of Christ. One by one, the priest will wash the participant's feet with a basin and a towel.
Allow us to be explicit in stating the significance of this ceremony. It is a reminder that we are of the Body of Christ and as such, and His followers, we too are called to serve others in a spirit of humility. And we are to do so, even if we do not feel the desire to do so. As Christians, this is our duty.
READ JOHN 13:1-17
1 Before the festival of the Passover, Jesus, knowing that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father, having loved those who were his in the world, loved them to the end.
2 They were at supper, and the devil had already put it into the mind of Judas Iscariot son of Simon, to betray him.
3 Jesus knew that the Father had put everything into his hands, and that he had come from God and was returning to God,
4 and he got up from table, removed his outer garments and, taking a towel, wrapped it round his waist;
5 he then poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel he was wearing.
6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, 'Lord, are you going to wash my feet?'
7 Jesus answered, 'At the moment you do not know what I am doing, but later you will understand.'
8 'Never!' said Peter. 'You shall never wash my feet.' Jesus replied, 'If I do not wash you, you can have no share with me.' Simon Peter said,
9 'Well then, Lord, not only my feet, but my hands and my head as well!'
10 Jesus said, 'No one who has had a bath needs washing, such a person is clean all over. You too are clean, though not all of you are.'
11 He knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said, 'though not all of you are'.
12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments again he went back to the table. 'Do you understand', he said, 'what I have done to you?
13 You call me Master and Lord, and rightly; so I am.
14 If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you must wash each other's feet.
15 I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.
16 'In all truth I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, no messenger is greater than the one who sent him.
17 'Now that you know this, blessed are you if you behave accordingly.
(New Jerusalem Bible)
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