Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord–and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, `Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:1-17, 31b-35.
In the Lectionary reading for today, we feel the reverberation of Mary of Bethany’s act of devotion from Monday’s reading. In many respects, today’s Gospel contains the adhesive which bonds all of the events of, and the readings for, Holy Week together. St. John reports that Jesus knew that the hour of his death had come; this passage records how chose to spend his last hours with his friends. “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
In washing the disciple’s feet, Jesus assumed the role of a servant, of a slave. Reluctant to have his Rabbi assume this role, Peter protested. Jesus assured Peter, however, that this way was the path to sharing in the life of Christ. He teaches them that serving each other offers a great blessing. Jesus teaches, “For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”
In a terribly poignant moment, Jesus calls his disciples “little children” and tells them his time with them has grown very short. Jesus then offers them the great commandment: to love each other as He has loved us. We love each other because He loved us first, and showed us how to do it. I’ve come to believe, the more time I spend in John’s Gospel, that there’s really only one sin: the failure to love.
I have often heard church leaders talk about a “path to discipleship”, and I suppose that’s a useful discussion in some sense. But Jesus says that there’s only one true marker of his disciples: they love each other, reflecting Christ’s love. Jesus paints a portrait of divine vulnerability, reflecting a God who entered into human history, subjected Himself to shame, and poured Himself out to show us how to live. This moment in John’s Gospel, in which God acts like a slave, constitutes a critical moment of God’s self-revelation. “This,” Jesus tells us, “this is what the Kingdom looks like.”
Love serves as the glue which binds the readings for Holy Week together. Love rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. Love filled the house with a fragrant oil. Love lights the way so that the darkness will not overcome us. Love surrounds us in a great cloud of witnesses. And tomorrow, Love will be hoisted on a Cross.
Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner,
James R. Dennis, O.P.
© 2012 James R. Dennis