“You call me Teacher and Lord– and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:13-14)
Today’s celebration goes way back to the Old Testament. Today we commemorate that day that the children of Israel, our ancestors in the faith, were spared from the death of their firstborn males. Moses had instructed every family was to gather to eat a lamb whose blood will be sprinkled on the doorposts of their houses. They were to eat the flesh that night roasted with unleavened bread, loins girded; sandals on their feet and in haste.
God said to Moses: “For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will smite all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall fall upon you to destroy you.” (Exodus 12:12-13).
This event, known as the Passover, was the last straw that broke the camel’s back – Pharaoh had to let the people go. After four hundred years of slavery, the people finally got their freedom. Indeed, they were not going to forget this in a hurry; year after year, they celebrated this feast as one of the most important Jewish festivals recalling their miraculous victory from the hands of Pharaoh.
Nevertheless, one may wonder, “was it just the blood of mere lambs that saved them from captivity?” The answer to this question becomes clear when we consider today’s Second Reading. While Jesus and his disciples were gathered in the upper room to eat the Passover meal, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ (1 Corinthians 11:23-25).
By giving His disciples His own flesh to eat and His blood to drink, Jesus practically showed us that He himself is the Lamb whose blood saved the children of Israel from Egypt. We no longer need to smear our doorposts with the blood of animals because now we have the real deal; the body and blood of Jesus Christ in Holy Eucharist. No wonder Jesus himself said in John 6:53, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”
Tonight, we are not just celebrating Jesus as our Passover, we are also celebrating the anniversary of the priesthood. By adding the words; “Do this in remembrance of me”, Jesus basically empowered the disciples, giving them the grace and power to change bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus. Knowing that this enormous power freely given to the disciples could lead to pride and self-aggrandizement, John tells that on this same night, Jesus practically taught them a lesson in humility by washing their feet.
Washing one’s feet was a task allotted to slaves in the Jewish culture, it was the most humiliating task anyone would do for another. The disciples were shocked. Peter even tried to protest Jesus’ action but Jesus explained: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:14-15). Jesus wanted his disciple to know that in their exercise of priestly power, humility and service are all-important. Without a desire to stoop so low as to wash the feet of others, priestly ministry falls apart.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, you willing offered your life to save me from destruction, teach me to sacrifice for the wellbeing of others and to do with all humility Amen.
(Maundy Thursday – Evening Mass. Bible Study: Exodus 12:1-14, Psalm 116, 1st Corinthians 11:23-26 and John 13:1-15).