A Reflection on Holy Thursday

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Today we continue our journey with Christ throughout Holy Week by celebrating Holy Thursday, the night of the Passover and washing of the feet. Today’s Gospel reading comes from John 13: 1-15. I invite you read through the passage and pay close attention to the words and actions of Jesus.

“Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come
to pass from this world to the Father.
He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.
The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over.
So, during supper,
fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power
and that he had come from God and was returning to God,
he rose from supper and took off his outer garments.
He took a towel and tied it around his waist.
Then he poured water into a basin
and began to wash the disciples’ feet
and dry them with the towel around his waist.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him,
“Master, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus answered and said to him,
“What I am doing, you do not understand now,
but you will understand later.”
Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered him,
“Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.”
Simon Peter said to him,
“Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.”
Jesus said to him,
“Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed,
for he is clean all over;
so you are clean, but not all.”
For he knew who would betray him;
for this reason, he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

So when he had washed their feet
and put his garments back on and reclined at table again,
he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you?
You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am.
If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet,
you ought to wash one another’s feet.
I have given you a model to follow,
so that as I have done for you, you should also do.””

In this Gospel, we see Jesus performing an act of service to the disciples by washing their feet. Peter becomes indignant and refuses to let Jesus perform such a humbling form of service for him. Jesus then explains that in order for Peter to come into his kingdom, he needed to allow Jesus to wash his feet.

When reading this passage, it is important to understand the cultural issues surrounding it. In the Jesus’ time, a persons’ feet were considered dirty and unclean. People wore sandals, and they walked through dirt, bodily wastes and other dirty substances. As a result, it was important for people to have clean feet whenever they entered a building. Usually a servant would perform this task because it was considered the lowliest of low tasks. Knowing this, we can better understand Peter’s protests against Jesus washing his feet. He did not want his teacher and master to perform a task that he considered to be below him.

So what does this mean for us? There are two ways that we can read and reflect on this passage for our own lives. The first way we can read this is by seeing Jesus wash the feet of the disciples and hearing his words, “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” Jesus stepped out of the social norms of the time to administer and serve his disciples with a lowly task. He set aside pride or worry of how his actions would be taken by the disciples. Instead, he did what he was called to do, and he calls us to do the same. We are called to put aside our pride, reputation and fears to love and serve others in any way that they need. We are not only called to help our friends or family, but the “untouchables” – people who tend to be outcasts of society – in our lives. By doing this, we are humbling ourselves and serving others. Remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 25: 40, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

The other way of understanding this passage relates to our relationship with Jesus. In our life, we all have sins, pains, past wounds and secrets that we hide from others. We hide them in the depths of our hearts and refuse to let anyone see our weaknesses and failings. These hidden things can be compared to the dirty feet of the disciples. They are “dirty,” “untouchable” or “unclean”. In the Gospel, we see Jesus approaching and cleaning the dirty and untouchable body part of that time, the feet. In a similar way, Jesus wants to heal and cleanse us of sins and past hurts that we hold on to. Like Peter, we can be hesitant to let God into that part of our lives because it’s not pretty, and we don’t like to admit it. Jesus insists though on letting him into that part of our lives. We are called to give ourselves totally to God, not to pick and choose the parts of our lives that we want to let him into. Jesus was sent to die for us and our sins so that we might have eternal life. This is the journey we are following this Holy Week.

As we go into the next few days of Holy Week, I invite you to let Jesus into your whole life: your joys, pains, wounds, fears, hopes and dreams. Give him all the dirty parts of your life, go to Confession, and let God heal and transform your life. I also invite you to not be afraid to serve others just like Jesus did for the the disciples and for us all. You all will be in my prayers as we conclude Holy Week!

In Christ,

Teresa Pillifant

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