On a number of
occasions during his gospel John has stated that
Jesus’ hour had not yet come. Now he dramatically
announces that the hour has come, and that it
coincides with the feast of Passover. St John
states two ideas that underlie today’s gospel:
the passage of Jesus by and through death to the
Father, and his giving himself in love. His knowledge
of (even Judas) and his love for ‘his own’ are
expressed in actions.
In hot and dusty Palestine the
washing of feet when one entered a house was necessary,
since people walked barefoot or in sandals. Remarkably,
it was the duty of the host to offer this courtesy
to his guests, given the shortage of water. The
duty was usually performed by slaves, which lends
a particular point to Simon Peter’s reaction.
As so often, the disciples,
with Simon as spokesman, do not understand, but
something will happen so that they will come to
understand afterwards. Often in the course of
the gospel John said that the disciples did not
understand until after Jesus had risen. Jesus
warns Peter that he can have no part with him
without the washing. To have part with Jesus means
to be part of his love, which is to be further
demonstrated on the cross. Simon still thinks
it all depends on how many parts of the body are
washed, but Jesus stresses that that is not necessary.
The word used for washing, at this stage, refers
to total immersion and is perhaps a hint at Baptism.
The author then gives us privileged
information. Nobody in the room except Jesus knows
about the plans of Judas. We are told before everyone
else, and so we are in a position to grasp the
drama of the moment. Jesus has revealed that his
love is without limit, but feels the need to give
‘his own’ a further explanation of what it means:
to repeat in their lives the gift of self that
he has just demonstrated. Foot washing is not
an end in itself but an instruction to his disciples
to be servants. Service is to be one of the marks
of the disciple.
Two verses farther on John records Jesus as
“If you know
these things blessed are you if you do
1. Ireland is neither hot nor
dusty and only at certain times are sandals worn.
Are we then excused this duty? Or do we perhaps
already practise an alternative?
2. Do you have
the opportunity to practise various sorts of service
in the course of the day?
3. ‘To have
part with Jesus’. I recognise that it results
in the first place from my Baptism, but can it
be is as important to me as it clearly was to