AS DUSK FELL, the hour appointed for the Passover meal, Jesus joined His disciples in the room He had sent them to prepare earlier in the day. Taking His place with them at the table, He said:
“I have greatly desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you that I will eat of it no more, until it has been fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”
Then, taking a cup of wine, He gave thanks and offered it to the disciples, saying:
“Take this and share it among you. But I say to you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I shall drink it new with you in the kingdom of My Father.”
At the beginning of the meal the disciples began arguing about a matter which had come up several times before, namely, which of them was the greatest of the apostles. Interrupting their discussion, Jesus said:
“The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them, and they who exercise authority over them are called Benefactors. But not so with you. On the contrary, let him who is greatest among you become as the youngest, and him who is the chief as the servant. For which is the greater, he who reclines at table, or he who serves? Is it not he who reclines? But I am in your midst as he who serves. But you are they who have continued with Me in My trials. And I appoint to you a kingdom, even as My Father has appointed to Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom; and you shall sit upon thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
When in spite of His words, the argument among His disciples continued unabated, Jesus arose from the table and prepared to give them a lesson in humility and love. Removing His outer garment (the tunic) and girding Himself with a towel, He began to wash the feet of His disciples, drying them with the towel.
Peter was dismayed by this proceeding, and when Jesus came to him he protested, saying, “Lord, dost Thou wash my feet?” Jesus replied:
“What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. “
Still obstinate, Peter remonstrated, “Thou shalt never wash my feet!” But Jesus answered:
“If I do not wash thee, thou shalt have no part with Me.”
Now, reversing himself with characteristic impulsiveness, Peter exclaimed, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.” However, Jesus said:
“He who has bathed needs only to wash, and he is clean all over. And you are clean, but not all.”
When He said this He was thinking of the traitor Judas, who had come to the rendezvous with the other disciples and was now boldly and nonchalantly facing his intended victim.
After He had finished washing their feet, Jesus resumed His tunic and returned to His place at the table. And He said to them:
“Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Master and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If, therefore, I the Lord and Master have washed your feet, you also ought to wash the feet of one another. For I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so you also should do. Amen, amen, I say to you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed shall you be if you do them. I do not speak of you all. I know whom I have chosen; but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me.’ I tell you now before it comes to pass, that when it has come to pass you may believe that I am He. Amen, amen, I say to you, he who receives anyone I send, receives Me; and he who receives Me, receives Him who sent Me.”
While they sat eating, He revealed to them His grief at Judas’ treachery, saying:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray Me. But behold, the hand of him who betrays Me is with Me on the table.”
They were distressed at these words, and began looking about anxiously, wondering who the guilty one might be, and saying, each of them, “Is it I, Lord?” One of them, whom Jesus especially loved (probably the disciple John), was leaning with his head against our Lord’s breast. Beckoning to him, Peter said, “Who is it of whom He speaks?” and the favored disciple in turn asked Jesus, saying, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered in a low voice:
“It is he for whom I shall dip the bread and give it to him.”
And taking a portion of unleavened bread, He dipped it in the charoseth sauce and handed it to Judas Iscariot. And He said:
“The Son of Man indeed goes His way, as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It were better for that man if he had not been born.”
Feigning ignorance, Judas said, “Is it I, Rabbi?” Jesus replied quietly and tersely:
“Thou hast said it. What thou hast to do, do quickly.”
With Satan in full possession of his soul, Judas left the room and went off into the night. Except for John, the apostles had not understood the whispered conversation between Jesus and Judas, and they supposed that the Master had sent him to buy provisions or to give alms to the poor.
Meditation: At the Last Supper Christ washed the feet of His apostles. Peter could not understand why Jesus would perform so menial a task, and he protested that he would not let his Master wash his feet. But our Lord insisted. On this most memorable of nights, the night before His passion and death on the cross, He wanted to teach men the great lesson of humble service. That lesson is still valid and is still needed today. For we often measure our “greatness,” our success, by the amount of service and deference we receive from others. Christ taught the exact opposite: true greatness of soul comes in serving others. What ambition do I have, to serve or to be served?
Information from The Life of Christ “Our Lord’s Life with Lesson in His Own Words for Our Life Today” The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 227-228. © 1954 edited by Reverend John P. O’Connell, MASTD and Jex Martin, following mainly A Chronological Harmony of the Gospels by Stephen J Hartdegen OFM NIHIL OBSTAT John A McMahon; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago August 1, 1953. Print. Drawing by Albert H Winkler.