To some readers, the 'hard' sayings of Jesus would be what we hear in the Sermon on the Mount, or in other chapters of St. John's Gospel. For example that we must reconcile with our brother before bringing a gift to the altar or that we must "eat His flesh and drink His blood" (cf John 6:53). Or perhaps Jesus' teaching about denying ourselves, counting the cost, or regarding knowledge of His return.
Instead, I think one of the hardest sayings of Jesus is found right here in John 13. Jesus tells His disciples that they must wash each others' feet. The Lord gives them a model to follow and then a command to follow it.
I wonder how often we fail to repent for not following this admonition?
Even if we could take the foot-washing phrase in today's reading as entirely symbolic, we still have a mighty struggle. The reason is that it is often easier to 'wash the feet' of a stranger or an unbeliever than to wash the feet of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We tend to take greater umbrage and rack up more guilt points for those who share our faith. We rightly have a higher standard for their conduct but then fail freely to offer the grace we have so generously received. One of the major stumbling blocks for Christians and those looking at the Church from the outside is how we treat each other. In the same Farewell Discourse, Jesus tells His disciples that the world will know them by the love they have for each other (John 13:35). How true this is!
Washing the feet of another person often seems beneath our dignity. Yet, it is just this type of humility that Christ models for us. If in an act of charity He would deign to wash the feet of His followers and friends, then how much more so should we be willing to do the same? Will we listen to Jesus and cast off our pride? Will we be ready to act with love when it is most difficult? I believe progress in this area is a mark of the Christian life.
Let us pray to imitate Christ in His humility and service.