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Father Muench Says...

‘You ought to wash one another’s feet’

October 27, 2021

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

Do you remember the recent Sunday Gospel that told of the incident in which two of the apostles, James and John, approached Jesus with the request for a place of honor when the Lord would come into his glory? They came to him seeking a place of power in the community. The other apostles were interested and upset. They each were interested in some sort of power.

I have no doubt that at that moment Jesus became very disappointed and displeased with his twelve apostles. He realized that they did not understand all that he expected of them as his followers. They had missed something so important. I believe that he became determined to find some way to demonstrate to them what his hopes were for his followers, for his twelve friends.

So, at the last supper, Jesus did something rather dramatic: he decided to wash their feet. As you remember, in that desert country it was customary for a household to have a servant who would welcome a guest by washing their feet. The thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of St. John describes for us, how Jesus stepped forward and accepted that task. He became the servant who washed the feet of the guests. He also used that moment to teach the apostles something important.

These are the words of Jesus: “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.”

Jesus wanted his followers to learn that Jesus did not come to be served, he came to serve – as they must.

This unique action of Jesus has been incorporated into our Catholic liturgy. On Holy Thursday, each pastor is asked to wash the feet of a few people in their parish as a model to demonstrate that as pastor he is called to serve. As pastor, he makes this promise with the image of washing the feet of his people.

I am always so impressed with Pope Francis in this regard. He celebrates his Holy Thursday Mass each year in a nearby prison. He offers this Mass with these young criminals and then washed their feet. He wants to tell them he will always be ready to serve them. Our Holy Father, after washing and drying their feet, bows down and kisses their feet. It’s such a powerful demonstration of his readiness to serve.

Let me tell you: I was a pastor and washed the feet of parishioners many times. However, I must tell you that I never kissed their feet. Pope Francis would probably ask me why not.

Jesus wanted his apostles at that Last Supper and his apostles of all time to never forget that they were called to follow him by washing the feet of those in need. Jesus wants you and I to realize that we live our Christian life. He wants us to follow our Lord and Savior as we wash the feet of each other.

Each time we reach out to help someone in need, we are washing his or her feet. Each time I spend some time with someone who is lonely and despondent, I am washing his or her feet. Each time I try to make someone happier, I am washing his or her feet. Each time I bring someone closer to the Lord, I am washing his or her feet. Each time I make this world a better place by living in the spirit of my savior, Jesus, I am washing someone’s feet.

Let me quote my friend, Catherine Doherty, here: “We exist to wash the feet of men and women, as Christ washed the feet of the apostles. This means entering into every place of their life.”

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