Thought for the Day – 29 March – Holy Thursday – The Mass of the Lord’s Supper 2018
When the Lord tells Peter that without the washing of his feet he would never be able to have any part in Him, Peter immediately and impetuously asks to have his head and hands washed as well. This is followed by the mysterious words of Jesus: “Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed” (John 13:10). Jesus alludes to a bath that the disciples, according to ritual prescriptions, had already taken; in order to participate in the meal, they now needed only to have their feet washed. But naturally, a deeper meaning is hidden in this. To what does it allude? We do not know for sure. In any case, we should keep in mind that the washing of the feet, according to the meaning of the entire chapter, does not indicate a single specific Sacrament but the “sacramentum Christi” in its entirety – His service of salvation, His descent even to the cross, His love to the end, which purifies us and makes us capable of God.
Here, with the distinction between the bath and the washing of feet, nevertheless, there also appears an allusion to life in the community of the disciples, to life in the community of the Church – an allusion that John may have intentionally transmitted to the community of his time. It then seems clear that the bath that purifies us definitively and does not need to be repeated is Baptism – immersion in the death and resurrection of Christ, a fact that changes our lives profoundly, giving us something like a new a identity that endures, if we do not throw it away as Judas did. But even in the endurance of this new identity, for convivial communion with Jesus we need the “washing of the feet.” What does this mean? It seems to me that the first letter of Saint John gives us the key for understanding this. There we read: “If we say, ‘We are without sin,’ we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing” (1:8ff.).
We need the “washing of the feet,” the washing of our everyday sins and for this we need the confession of sins. We do not know exactly how this was carried out in the Johannine community. But the direction indicated by the words of Jesus to Peter is obvious: in order to be capable of participating in the convivial community with Jesus Christ, we must be sincere. One must recognise that even in our own identity as baptised persons, we sin. We need confession as this has taken form in the Sacrament of reconciliation. In it, the Lord continually rewashes our dirty feet and we are able to sit at table with Him.
But in this way, the word takes on yet another meaning, in which the Lord extends the “sacramentum” by making it the “exemplum,” a gift, a service for our brother: “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14). We must wash each other’s feet in the daily mutual service of love. But we must also wash our feet, in the sense, of constantly forgiving one another. The debt that the Lord has forgiven us is always infinitely greater than all of the debts that others could owe to us (cf. Mt. 18:21-35). It is to this that Holy Thursday exhorts us: not to allow rancour toward others to become, in its depths, a poisoning of the soul. It exhorts us to constantly purify our memory, forgiving one another from the heart, washing each other’s feet, thus being able to join together in the banquet of God.
Holy Thursday is a day of gratitude and of joy for the great gift of love to the end that the Lord has given to us. We want to pray to the Lord at this time, so that gratitude and joy may become in us the power of loving together with His love. Amen.