photo of Larry Snyder, President of Catholic Charities USA

Do as I Have Done for You

Do as I Have Done for You

In the Middle East of Jesus’s time, shoes were rare.  Sandals were the norm, or even bare feet. It was a warm climate, and dry. No need for the layers of socks and shoes and boots that we wear in the northern climate of the United States.

In the Gospel of John, we encounter a familiar scene: Jesus and his disciples at dinner. But this story has a twist.

Jesus “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.”

It was not what you would expect.

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Peter protested. “You will never wash my feet.” The teacher washing the feet of his followers?  That was unheard of!

It was what we might call today “a teachable moment.”

So Jesus said: “As I have done for you, you should also do.”

So in those days of dusty, dirty feet it was a sign of hospitality for a host to offer his or her guests some water and a servant to wash their feet before entering the house proper.

His disciples must learn to wash one another’s feet. Learn to serve others, including–especially– those they thought should serve them.

It was a revolutionary idea at the time. It’s still a revolutionary idea. How many times have we been impatient with a waiter at a restaurant because service was slow? Or with the cashier at the supermarket? Do we even see the person who cleans our office, or are they just a figure in the shadows?

This evening, at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the Mandatum, as the ceremony of washing another’s feet is called, will be re-enacted. We are reminded that as disciples of Christ we are called to humility and service today, just as the twelve were called two millennia ago.

We don’t have many opportunities to wash other people’s feet these days, but we can understand that no act of service to another is beneath us. If we put service to others before our own desires in our personal, business, and civic lives, imagine how the world might change.

How would Jesus teach this lesson in today’s world? It’s worthy of reflection over the next few days as we contemplate and celebrate the Paschal mystery.