Today, we meditate on the foot washing of the Lord’s disciples. At this solemn moment in his life, just before the start of his sacred passion, Jesus rises, takes off his outer garments. He places a towel around his waist. Then he pours water into a basin and begins to wash the disciples’ feet. The disciples must have been filled with embarrassment and revulsion. Only Peter has the courage to say something: Master, never! You will never wash my feet!
Why now? Why at this moment would the Lord serve and humble himself in such a way?
We know that Christ never takes a role just to set an example. Of course he was exemplary, the model; but we know that the Lord’s actions go far deeper than simple (or even dramatic) actions. There is a lesson that must be learned. The Lord says to Peter, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” This is serious. This is a make or break moment for Christ and his followers.
We know that the Lord emptied himself of all divine privilege, taking the form of a man, so as to be with us. St. Paul tells us, “Though he was by nature God, he did not consider being equal to God a thing to be clung to, but emptied himself, taking the nature of a slave and being made like men.” (Phil 2:6-7) The Lord emptied himself so that he could descend to us. Not only did he descend, taking the form of man, but he took the form of a slave, a low life slave – a man without a name, a people, or a nation. Jesus lowered himself to that of a slave so as to be lifted up on a cross, becoming a criminal, a sinner, and a man hated by his own people and handed over to their enemies, their persecutors!
Jesus came down not only to walk on earth, but to penetrate to levels we could not even imagine! He is my savior because he alone is willing to rescue me from my place, assume my place and die in my place! And he did so without complaining.
When we are about to make a tremendous sacrifice, do something out of love for our children, or spouse, or neighbor, the last thing we want to do is travel one single extra mile! “I have done enough! What else do you want from me? I’m so sick and tired of you asking me to do more and more!” The Lord is about to be betrayed, arrested, beaten, scourged and tortured. And still he finds it within himself to serve his disciples by washing their feet. No one will wash his. Not a single disciple.
Enough is enough! And yet, true humility would prohibit the disciples from doing anything. To serve means to lower oneself and take the form of a slave. But who are we in the presence of the Lord? After all, if we wash the Lord’s feet, we are only doing what is proper and right. Only the one who is superior can be truly be humble to the one who is inferior. Only God can save us because only God can truly descend, truly love and truly be humble. It takes all three to save. It took the Supreme Master to surrender himself to man, and win!
No wonder why the disciples are confused! Everything is really upside-down! Peter must participate in the mystery of divine surrender if he is to share in the life of Christ, for it is the kernel of Christianity. (Romano Guardini, The Lord)
Every Christian one day reaches the point where he too must be ready to accompany the Master into destruction and oblivion. Whatever it is to be: suffering, dishonor, the loss of loved ones or the shattering of a lifetime oeuvre, this is the decisive test of his Christianity…To be a Christian means to participate in the life of Christ – all of it; only the whole brings peace…Do not let your hearts be troubled, or be afraid. Peace comes only from living this through to the end. One way or another we must brush the depths Christ divinely plummeted, taste the dregs he drained to the last drop: “It is consummated.” From this unreserved realization of the Father’s will comes the illimitable peace of Christ, also for us. (Romano Guardini, The Lord)