We are aware that the Last Supper is a transcendental event in the history of our Church, marking the Institution of the Holy Mass and the establishment of the Sacrament of Holy Communion. While all four Gospels describe parts of the Last Supper, only the Gospel of John ( 13:2-7) describes the Washing of the Feet, whereby the Priesthood was established with the Disciples becoming the first priests in following Christ’s powerful example of humble, loving service. Focusing on this beautiful part of the Last Supper, we may use the phrase Love Christ Always as a way to remember three points made here.
There are over 50 phrases in the English language which involve the feet or legs, expressing positive, negative, or neutral concepts that may serve as reminders regarding what being a true Christian is all about.
We call ourselves Christians, but do we drag our feet to help others, sidestep standing up for our Faith instead of stepping forward, or walk on eggs because we are more concerned with offending others than with offending God? Do we often put our foot in our mouth by speaking for ourselves and not God? Do we dip our toes in our faith instead of jumping in with both feet? Do we keep others on their toes by challenging them to be closer to Christ? Do we shoot ourselves in the foot by not practicing what we preach, or do we always try to put our best foot forward, standing firmly on what we believe and being willing to walk the walk instead of just talk the talk?
We are all aware of the ancient practice of foot washing, a custom made necessary by the fact that people wore sandals or were even barefoot resulting in very dirty feet. It was customary for the lowest servant of the host’s household to wash the feet of visitors. This punctuated Christ’s powerful example of humble service and disarmed any argument that we need not humble ourselves to reach out to others following Christ’s model.
While some scholars believe that the washing of the feet came after the meal itself, most scholars agree that it occurred either before or during the event, but most certainly before the actual breaking of the bread and blessing of the bread and wine. Is this cleansing before partaking of Christ’s Body and Blood not parallel to confession before Communion?
If we think about it, the washing of the feet required obvious humility by the one washing, but also required some humility on the part of the one being washed, since it was an admission that the feet were, indeed, in need of washing. Does not confession require humility on the one being cleansed of sin, since it demands an admission of sinfulness? Just as Christ washed the soles of the feet at the Last Supper, so too He washes the souls in defeat at confession!
The final point to be made here is by no means the least important. In fact, some may argue that it is the real point of this entire discussion. A popular interpretation of John 17:14-19 where Our Lord says that His followers are “not of the world” is that Christians should be in the world but not part of it. Many have wrongly seen this as suggesting that Christians seeking salvation have no choice but to tolerate the unpleasant moral dirt of this world but should try to isolate themselves from it so as to not be tainted by this world’s pathetic moral state.
Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. We only need to see the example of Christ, who was born in dirt and died in dirt, whose entire life was a series of humiliations, and who spent His entire ministry reaching out to the most wretched segments of society in love. Would we have asked Mother Teresa to stay away from the terrible poverty, squalor, and odor that she embraced on a daily basis in loving service? So, we see, that the true Christian will surely get his or her feet very dirty, both in personal sin and in the grime of this world. True Christians, being human, will sin and need confession to cleanse their souls. They will also serve the most unpleasant and need cleansing of this good dirt only found in following Christ’s example.
As the Parable of the Talents vividly reminds us, the only way that we will give God a return on His investment in us is by going out and making a difference in a very dirty world, and certainly not by hiding in a church or under a bed lest we become tainted by the moral squalor around us.
As we consider The Last Supper, let us remember the Washing of the Feet, whereby Christ reminds us that we can only return home to Heaven by being willing to walk outside of our comfort zone and take Christ to others in a very morally dirty world. Being a true Christian is not only about playing one in Church, where we recite liturgical scripts and prayers only to go home and keep our feet as clean as possible. Ultimately, as saints like St. Paul and Mother Teresa so vividly demonstrated, being a true follower of Christ is about walking the walk to the very foot of the Cross. As St.Therese, The Little Flower, taught us, we must bear the scars of fighting for our Faith when we present ourselves before God, and that includes very, very dirty feet spent serving others in love.
Gabriel Garnica, 2016