At the Last Supper Jesus washed the feet of the Apostles. It is only in the Gospel of John that we find an account of the washing of the feet. Chronologically Jesus washes each of the twelve Apostles’ feet, after which he exhorts them to serve one another based on this symbolic act. He then manifests to them that one of the twelve is going to betray Him, and after a dispute and moment of uncertainty, Peter urges John to ask Jesus who it is, and so Jesus replies:
“It is he to whom I shall give this morsel when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” (Jn 13:26-27).
Without going into too much detail there are two facts that are made immediately apparent: 1) that Judas left the cenacle room of the Last Supper after the washing of the feet, and thus Jesus washed Judas’ feet; and 2) Jesus knew beforehand (He is God after all) that Judas was going to betray Him as the Psalm, written about a thousand years earlier, had foretold: “Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted his heel against me.” (Ps 41:9).
When we combine these two facts together we begin to appreciate how lowly, humble and loving Jesus must truly be; for whilst knowing fully well that Judas had already sold Him out for 30 silver pieces by making a deal with the chief priests to betray Him (Mt 26:15), still, Jesus washed Judas’ feet. Jesus knows that Judas has betrayed Him by word and intent, and is going to betray Him yet again by deed to a cruel and torturous death, yet still, Jesus washed Judas’ feet.
Jesus knew what Judas was going to do and so He could have waited until Judas had gone away before He washed the Apostles’ feet, yet instead He chose to wash their feet when Judas was still there! Indeed, our Lord knew in foreknowledge that Judas’ act of betrayal was and had to take place (although Judas freely willed it), yet still, our Lord seemed to have desired to plant a final seed of love in Judas’ heart in the yearning that He would repent and return after His betrayal in the confidence of so great a love.
We’ve heard the words that our Lord said after the washing of the feet a thousand times:
When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. 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. (Jn 13:12-15).
We’re aware that our Lord by these words calls us to selflessly serve our neighbours, and to humble ourselves in carrying out any task – even the lowliest – in imitation of the love of Christ for the betterment of others. Yet this Scripture takes on a new potency when we bear in mind the remarkable fact that Jesus even washed the feet of Judas whom He knew was going to betray Him.
I recall to mind the following verse: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). This indeed is one of the messages Jesus gives us by washing the feet of Judas – that no matter how sinful, dirty, ashamed and unholy we may be, even if we’re a Judas, Jesus loves us unconditionally and wants us to recline upon His heart like John the Beloved did at the Last Supper (Jn 13:25) – sorry for our sins, but even more so, trusting in His Love.
“For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,” says St. Paul, “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38-39).
What else does Jesus teach us by washing Judas’ feet? That we are to wash everybody’s feet. In other words, that we are to serve and treat as better than ourselves, everyone – no matter who, no matter how much we dislike them, no matter how embarrassed we are of their company, no matter how angry we are with them, no matter how sinful and evil they are we are to love them in Jesus, with the very love of Jesus.
Just before Jesus is about to wash the feet of those present at the Last Supper, including Judas, he wraps around His waist a towel at the ready. Jesus “rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel.” (Jn 13:4). We too must lay aside our garments – which for ourselves symbolises putting aside our petty resentments, feelings and opinions – and must gird ourselves with the towel of selfless love – so that we are poised and ready, keen and committed, looking for opportunities to spiritually wash our neighbour’s feet, even if they’re a Judas, and especially if they’re a Judas. For as our Lord says: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” (Mt 5:44, 46).
This article was originally posted by the author in 2016 on his private blog.
Image: Washing of the Feet, Duccio di Buoninsegna, 1308-1311, Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Washing_of_the_Feet.jpg