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Gospel for Thursday, April 1: John 13: 1-15

Washing of the Saints Feet

1Before the feast of Easter, Jesus, knowing that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, loved them to the end. 2During dinner, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray him, 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given everything into his hands and that he had come from God and was returning to God, 4he got up from the table, took off his clothes, took a towel and tied it around his waist. 5Then he poured some water into the basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel he had wrapped himself with. 6So he came to Simon Peter and he said to him: “Lord, do you wash my feet?”. 7Jesus replied: “What I do, you do not understand now; you will understand later.” 8Peter said to him: “You will never wash my feet!”. Jesus answered him: “If I do not wash you, you will have no part with me.” 9Simon Peter said to him: “Lord, not only my feet, but also my hands and my head!”. 10Jesus added: “He who has bathed has no need to wash except his feet and is entirely pure; and you are pure, but not all of you.” 11In fact he knew who was betraying him; therefore he said, “Not all of you are pure.” 12When he had washed their feet, he took on his clothes, sat down again and said to them: “Do you understand what I have done for you? 13You call me the Master and the Lord, and you are right, because I am. 14If therefore I, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15In fact, I have given you an example, so that you too should do as I did to you”.

John 13: 1-15

Dear Sisters and Brothers of the Misericordie, I am Carlo Miglietta, doctor, biblical scholar, layman, husband, father and grandfather (www.buonabibbiaatutti.it).

Also today I share with you a short meditation thought on the Gospel, with special reference to the theme of mercy.

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At the time of John, the Christian communities were divided at the celebration of the Eucharist, just as Paul had already denounced in 1 Cor 11,17-18: the rich feasted on their own, and did not share the meal with the poor. Perhaps already in response to these distortions of the Eucharistic understanding in the first Church, John, the apostle whom Jesus loved (Jn 21.20) and who at the Last Supper had laid his head on the chest of the Master (Jn 13.25), unlike the synoptics, he does not mention in his Gospel the institution of the Eucharist “before the feast of Easter” (Jn 13:1), but, in its place, places the description of the washing of the feet. The evangelist thought it best to underline the profound meaning of the Eucharist; this profound meaning is love: “The Eucharist is the sacrament of charity and service, it is the sacrament of Christ the servant” (J. Dupont).

At the time of Jesus, the washing of feet was a gesture that expressed welcome, humble service and affection. Since the feet, worn only with sandals, tended to get dusty on the unpaved streets, it was the Jewish custom to provide water to a guest to wash his feet: but a Jewish slave could not be expected to wash his master’s feet: this gesture it was carried out by a pagan slave (1 Sam 25,41). Or it was an action practiced by the wife towards her husband or by her daughters towards their father, as a sign of love. Thus disciples occasionally rendered this service to their master or rabbi, as an act of devotion; and Jesus seems to allude to this custom when he speaks to his disciples. In washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus humiliates himself and takes on the form of a servant (Phil 2).

But that of Jesus is not only a gesture of humility, but of revelation, that is, it allows us to see the face of the God that Jesus manifests, of the Christian God. Looking at Jesus washing the feet, one does not simply have the icon of service, but an icon that Maggioni calls “of the upside-down God”. “God reveals himself in what constitutes the deepest aspect of his divinity and manifests his glory, precisely by becoming our servant, washing the feet of his creatures” (H. U. Von Balthasar). “God is not the supreme master who owns everything. God is the greatest poor man who possesses nothing … he has given everything eternally and cannot give more, because this gift constitutes him in his being a person founded solely on charity ”(M. Zundel).

In the episode of the washing of the feet there is the deepest meaning of the Eucharist. It is significant in this sense that despite the Lord’s explicit command: “If I, the Lord and the Master, have washed your feet, you also must wash one another’s feet. In fact, I have given you an example, so that you also do as I have done” (Jn 13,14-17), the Church has not established a specific “sacrament of the washing of the feet”, just as after the “Do this in memory of me” instead instituted the Eucharist. This Johannine story has not been understood as the “institution of foot washing”. The washing of the feet is not something other than the Eucharist: it is its only exegesis.

The great theologian Yves Congar said that “if the Church lives from the Eucharist she cannot be anything but servant and poor”. The Eucharist cannot be understood if we do not see its dimension of calling to total sharing with brothers, to “being eaten” and “being drunk” by brothers. Celebrating the Eucharist means being willing to share your life and your goods with the least, the suffering, the discarded.

“Knowing these things, you will be blessed if you put them into practice” (13.17): John has only two beatitudes: in 20.29 that of faith without seeing, here the beatitude of the Cross, which is Love and Service. God is our joy. “No one makes us happier than God” (Augustine). The path of service that Jesus shows us by washing the feet of his disciples is the path of happiness, of fullness, of fulfillment.

Happy Mercy to all!

Anyone who would like to read a more complete exegesis of the text, or some insights, please ask me at migliettacarlo@gmail.com.

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