In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. It is fitting that we find this account in St. John’s Gospel, for it reflects the deep intimacy and spirituality of the overall narrative. Someone who loved Jesus deeply, who was having their own feet washed, wrote this for our benefit. How humbling it is to think that our Lord performed this act of service.
Foot washing was done by slaves or the lowliest houseworkers. It was a profoundly servile task, for the feet are great collectors of filth. The grime builds up, layer upon layer. Cleaning them requires soaking, scrubbing, and vigorous washing. Try walking around barefoot for a whole day, perhaps in the summer, and then wash your feet. You will notice the build-up everywhere, on your heels and in between your toes. But when you clean your feet, something highly refreshing and therapeutic happens. It feels like your entire body and mind are restored.
Just like the filth that cakes itself upon our feet, our sins harden and crust upon our souls. Only through Jesus’ supreme act of the servile, dying as a slave on the Cross, can the dross of sin be removed. Jesus tells Simon Peter “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” Likewise for us, unless we are washed by the blood of Christ, we have no inheritance with Him.
As Jesus did in washing His disciples' feet before His Passion, He does for us every day as He offers up the perfect sacrifice of His body and blood. We partake of this beautiful sacrifice in the Holy Eucharist. We receive the grace infused by the other Sacraments, whereby we share in the inheritance of the Lord. In receiving these gifts, analogous to our feet being washed, we are refreshed. We feel clean. Our shoulders are no longer tense. The dull beating headache continually tapping itself against our temples ceases its cadence. The psychological and physiological effects reflect a deeper spiritual reality within us. When Jesus cleans us, we are drawn up into the divine life.
Life on this side of eternity can be messy. We may get dirty again. Jesus is always there with the wash basin and towel. We may not think the towel dripping with His blood can purify us, but it does so at the deepest level. Like Simon Peter, let us ask Jesus to wash not only our feet but our head - indeed our entire selves - also.