Today is Holy Thursday and it's at Mass today that we remember the Last Supper. Many notable things happened at the Last Supper, especially the first Eucharist, but today's Gospel reading comes from John. While Matthew, Mark, and Luke (particularly Luke) recount the Eucharistic theme of the Last Supper, John focuses on another event; the washing of the feet.
We probably all know how this goes. Jesus puts a towel around his waist and washes the disciples' feet one by one. Peter gives him some trouble but Jesus talks him into it. Just in case anyone misses the point, Jesus asked them afterward if they got the message. They called Jesus Master and Lord (and rightly so) and if he washed their feet, if he served them, then obviously they should serve one another.
Many parish priests have a foot washing ceremony where the priest actually takes a bowl, water, and towel out to wash the feet of (pre-selected) members of the congregation. Some people may think this is just for show or maybe like a mini-drama of the Last Supper but I encourage them to ask to have their feet washed next year; I've had mine washed and it was an amazing experience. It's profoundly humbling that the hands that daily raise the consecrated body and blood of Christ are now washing my own feet! Tonight our entire family, seven-month-old, three-year-old, my wife, and I are all among the parishioners selected and the feelings of humility are already present.
The command to wash each others' feet is meant in a large part for the ordained members of the Church. The disciples were leaders, preachers, miracle (sacrament) workers and Christ knew they would be the ones the people turned to when he was no longer with them in human form. They had struggled in the past with who was the greatest and Jesus put that issue to bed at last by showing that the greatest is the greatest servant. If this doesn't resonate loudly with each member of the clergy then I wonder if they missed something in formation.
The feet are our method of movement. They reflect the path we have walked by the stuff that clings to them and this is one (of many) symbols of the washing of feet. By cleaning them, Jesus wiped away all the muck and grime of a journey down the road of sin and prepared them for the streets of gold in heaven.
Our ministers play an extremely important role in this sort of “washing” in the form of teaching, proclaiming the Gospel, and administering sacraments but all Christians are called to this service as well. While we may not administer sacraments we certainly do play a real role in leading those around us closer to, or farther from, Jesus. Every time we share Christ's forgiveness, compassion, or love with another person we wash their feet by leading them down the path toward Christ.
Whose feet will you wash today?