A Servant’s Heart

Scripture Reading

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.”
(John 13:1-15)

Scripture Study

13:1 feast of the Passover: The original meaning of this feast, celebrating the passing of the angel of death over the Israelites and their escape from Egypt (Ex 12:13), is being reshaped by the works and words of Christ, who will “pass over” to the Father through the upcoming events of his Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension. This saving work of Jesus will inaugurate a new Exodus, liberating the human family from sin, selfishness, and Satan (1:29; 8:34–36) (CCC 1340). See note on Jn 6:4. to the end: i.e., “completely” or “to the fullest extent” (CCC 609).

13:2 during supper: The Synoptic Gospels specify that it was a Passover meal (Mt 26:19; Mk 14:16; Lk 22:15).

13:4 his garments: Symbolic of Christ’s human life. John’s carefully worded narrative makes this clear: the same Greek verbs that Jesus uses for laying down his life and taking it up again in 10:17–18 are here employed to describe how Christ “laid aside” his garments (13:4) in service and has “taken” them up again (13:12).

13:5 wash the disciples’ feet: A gesture of hospitality normally performed by a household slave, not the presiding host. Jesus thus shows himself a model of humility (1 Tim 5:10) and, at the same time, gives a preview of the heroic service he will render when he accepts the humiliation of the Cross (Mk 10:45; Phil 2:5–8).

13:8 no part in me: Peter cannot be a disciple of Christ on his own terms but must submit himself to the divine plan already determined by the Lord.

13:10 He who has bathed: Seems to imply that the apostles have already been baptized, although this is not explicitly stated in the Gospels. ● Jesus’ words hint at the distinction between Baptism, which washes away every stain of sin committed (actual) and contracted (Original), and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which cleanses us of the accumulated dust of sins committed after our baptismal washing (20:23; 1 Jn 1:9; CCC 1446).

13:15 an example: Jesus says with words what was already expressed in his deeds: we must pattern our lives after Jesus, whose actions show us how to love and honor our heavenly Father (Mt 11:29; CCC 520). Included in this is the willingness to serve others even to the point of death (15:13).


Scripture Reflection

Walking in sandals on the filthy roads of Israel in the first century made it imperative that feet be washed before a communal meal, especially since people reclined at a low table and feet were very much in evidence. When Jesus rose from the table and began to wash the feet of the disciples, He was doing the work of the lowliest of servants. The disciples must have been stunned at this act of humility and condescension, that Christ, their Lord and master, should wash the feet of His disciples, when it was their proper work to have washed His. But when Jesus came to earth, He came not as King and Conqueror, but as the suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. As He revealed in Matthew 20:28, He came “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The humility expressed by His act with towel and basin foreshadowed His ultimate act of humility and love on the cross.

This truth is one that Christians can apply to their own lives. When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, He told them (and us), “I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15). As His followers, we are to emulate Him, serving one another in lowliness of heart and mind, seeking to build one another up in humility and love. When we seek the preeminence, we displease the Lord who promised that true greatness in His kingdom is attained by those with a servant’s heart. When we have that servant’s heart, the Lord promised, we will be greatly blessed.

May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.