Dear Friends! When I was growing up, on Holy Thursday 12 boys from the 5th grad were asked to be there for the washing of the feet in my native parish. The Principal (Head Master) asked us to wash our feet very well before hand and come. The priest after washing the foot during the Mass would give the boys 25 cents (25 Paisa) expect one, who will get 30 cents (30 Paisa). Most of us would pray not to get 30 paisa mainly because the one who gets 30 paisa used to be teased as Judas who betrayed Jesus.
The first time that we read of foot washing is in Genesis 18. In Genesis 18:4 it says that Abram greeted three strangers and washed their feet. They were not people he knew, yet he gave of his household to them as well after washing their feet. By welcoming these strangers, Abram welcomed God into his life whom miraculously opened the womb of Sara mother of Israel. The second time in the Old Testament reference to washing of the foot is found in Gen 19. Lot found the three men by the gates in Sodom he did not know they were angels (Genesis 19). He welcomed them into his home, first washing their feet. Lot did not know he was washing the feet of angels.
Foot washing was common in Jewish culture. In the New Testament we see this clearly in Luke 7:36-50 when Jesus visits the home of Simon the Pharisee. A pleasant dinner was interrupted when a woman who had been a prostitute comes and kneels at Jesus’ feet, weeping because of her love for him, and then drying his feet with her long hair.
Life in Palestine in the time of Jesus was hard. The popular means of transport was your feet. People walked long distances on rough, dusty roads to go from Galilee to Jerusalem, for example. Travelers often arrived at their destinations with sore and aching feet. As a sign of hospitality, the host would see to it that his guests were given a warm foot bath and massage as a way of relieving their aches and pains. This was usually done by the house servants or slaves.
At his Last Supper, Jesus not only served at table but did a dirtier and more unpleasant job; he washed the dust and dirt of the road off the feet of his apostles a task which, in those days, was done by a slave or a servant to a guest who entered the house. I doing so, he gave a shocking and shining example to his apostles as well as to us all on how to be servant of all.
Holy Thursday is possibly one of the most important, complex, and profound days of celebration in the Catholic Church. Holy Thursday celebrates the institution of the Eucharist as the true body and blood of Jesus Christ and the institution of the sacrament of the priesthood. During the Last Supper, Jesus offers himself as the Passover sacrifice, the sacrificial lamb, and teaches that every ordained priest is to follow the same sacrifice in the exact same way.
Jesus establishes a close link between him washing the disciples’ feet and the disciples washing the feet of others. If the Eucharist is the place where the Lord washes our feet, daily life is the place where we ought to wash the feet of others. True Eucharist piety must lead to service of others. Jesus who broke the bread of the Eucharist also washed the feet of his disciples. We must follow his example both at the altar of the Eucharist and at the altar of life.
Our journey through life is much dirtier than we think. You never know what you might step in, that will leave you defiled and unclean. We don’t like to think about that but it is true. No matter how hard we may try to stay clean, we are all dirtier than we think, and we end each day dirtier than when we started. Because we sin every day, we need daily cleansing. We need to have the dirt removed from our feet. When we come to Christ, the guilt of our sin is removed forever. Because we live in a dirty world, we need cleansing every day.
The life of a Christian in the world is a pilgrimage, a long, hard journey. Along the way we get tired and worn out and we are tempted to give up and turn back. But Jesus has provided us with the Eucharist as a place where we can go in to bathe our aching feet and to be refreshed in body and soul for the journey that is still ahead.