The Gospel we read on Holy Thursday might strike some Catholics as strange. Rather than being about Jesus blessing and breaking the bread of the first Eucharist, it comes from St. John’s account of Jesus washing the feet of his Apostles. Why is this?
St. John has plenty to say about the Eucharist, but he puts it in another part of his Gospel, in chapter 6, after Jesus multiplies and distributes the bread to the thousands who came to hear him in the wilderness. “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.”
The flesh Jesus gives, in the words of St. John, “is my flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:51). In other words, the flesh of Jesus is his self-giving, his sacrifice, his willingness to die on behalf of others. Every time we receive Communion, we make his self-giving our own.
The narration of the washing of the Apostles’ feet is another way to drive home the very same message: that following Christ is all about serving, giving oneself to others. In ancient times, washing feet, a point of hospitality, was done by slaves and servants, the lowliest of society. Feet, dragged through who knows what on those dirty ancient roads, were not the perfumed and polished toes of modern models. They were smelly and ugly.
“Do you realize what I have done for you?” Jesus asks his Apostles (John 13:12). Of course, they haven’t a clue. “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” (John 13:14-15). Jesus’ dramatic washing of the feet of his followers shows what it means to eat his bread and be joined to his Body.
To approach Communion, to receive Jesus within us, means we wish to have in our hearts exactly what was in his. We wish him to be within us, accomplishing in us what he did in his life. With his sense of service. With his sense of lowliness. With his sense of love.
What kinds of things do you consider too low for you to do? What do you think is beneath you?
Think of people who might be disengaged from church, family, or society. Think of a way to begin reaching out to them. If you feel any hesitation in doing this, see how you might put it aside.
Jesus, loving Savior, fill me with a love for all whom you have made, especially those who fall between the cracks of society’s attention today. Help me to overcome my own squeamishness, my own hesitations, so that I may be a witness to the kind of love you have brought into the world.