Rome (AsiaNews) – Symbolically, the act of Jesus washing the feet represents the completion of his mission. With his love the cross transforms man, allowing him to take part in the Glory of God. “He involves all of us, pulling us with the transforming force of his love to the point that by being with Him, our life becomes ‘passage’, transformation. Thus we receive redemption—being concerned with eternal love, a condition towards which we aspire with our entire being.”
This is how the theologian Pope explained the ritual of the washing the feet he did on 12 priests this afternoon in Rome’s Cathedral, the Basilica of St John Lateran, an act that is part and parcel of the Mass in the “Lord’s Supper” with which Easter Triduum begins Holy Week.
In the washing of the feet, Benedict XVI said, Jesus removed the robe of his glory and wrapped himself in the ‘garment’ of humanity, making himself into a slave. He washed the dirty feet of the disciples and thus let them join the divine banquet to which He had invited them. Instead of cultic and external purification, which only ritually purifies man and leaves him as he is, a new bath takes over. By means of his word and love, by means of the gift of himself, he makes us pure.” And “if we welcome Jesus’ words with an attitude of meditation, prayer and faith, they will develop in us their purifying strength. Day after day we are covered by all sorts of filth, empty words, prejudices, reduced and altered knowledge; many half- or open falsehoods continuously seeps into our innermost self. All this darkens and contaminates our soul, threatens our capacity to see what is true and good. If we welcome the words of Jesus with an attentive heart, they will turn out to truly cleanse and purify the soul, the inner man.”
“If we pay close attention to the Gospel,’ said the Pope, “we can see two different aspects in the act of washing the feet. When Jesus washed the feet it was first and foremost a personal act—a gift of purity, of offering them the ‘capacity for God’. But the gift also turns into a model, the duty of doing the same thing to one another.
Together example and the act of giving “are typical of Christianity’s nature. In relation to moralism Christianity is more and something different. It is not our capacity of doing at the beginning, our moral capacity. Above all Christianity is giving: God gave him to us—he did not give something; he gave himself.” And this goes on ‘continuously.”
However, men are not “passive receivers of divine goodness. God rewards us as personal and living partners. Love given is a process of ‘loving together;’ in us it wants to be new life with God as the starting point. It is this way that we understand the words that, at the end of washing the feet, Jesus uttered when he spoke to his disciples and speaks to us all: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (Jn, 13:34). The ‘new commandment’ is not a new, difficult norm that did not exist until them. The new commandment means loving together with the One who loved us first. It is this way that we must understand the Sermon on the Mount. This does not mean that Jesus had no new precepts reflecting the needs of a new humanism, more sublime than the one that came before. The Sermon on the Mount is a path to learn how to identify oneself in Jesus’ attitudes (cf Phil, 2:5), a path of inner purification that leads us to a life together with Him. What is new is the gift that introduces us into Christ’s frame of mind. If we consider this, we can perceive how far we often are in our lives from this New Testament novelty; how rarely we give humanity an example as to how to love in communion with his love. Hence we remain in its debt as far as showing the credibility of Christian truth, which is demonstrated in love. For this reason we want to pray the Lord even more in order to make us through his purification mature for his new commandment.”
A final point the Pope highlighted is that in the act of washing the feet there is “a gift, a service to one’s brother. ‘If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet’ (Jn, 13: 14). We must wash one another’s feet in the daily service of mutual love. We must wash our feet also in the sense that we always forgive one another. The debt the Lord forgave us is always infinitely greater than all the debts others owe us (cf Mt 18, 21-35). Holy Thursday entreats us to do this, that is, not to let any rancour towards others deeply poison our soul. It entreats us to continuously purify our memory, truly forgive one another, wash one another’s feet in order to join God’s banquet.”