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Jesus Washes the Disciples’ Feet


Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

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1. Before the feast of the passover. John intentionally passes by many things which, he knew, had been related by Matthew and others. He undertakes to explain those circumstances which they had left out, one of which was the narrative of the washing of feet. And though he will afterwards explain more clearly for what purpose Christ washed the feet of his disciples, yet, before doing so, he states, in a single word, that the Lord testified, by this visible sign, that the love with which he embraced them was firm and lasting; that, though they were deprived of his presence, they might still be convinced that death itself would not quench this love. This conviction ought now to be fixed also in our hearts.

The words are, that Christ loved even to the end his own, who were in the world. Why does he employ this circumlocution in describing the Apostles, but in order to inform us that, in consequence of their being engaged, as we are, in a hazardous and difficult warfare, Christ regarded them with so much the greater solicitude? And, therefore, though we think that we are at a distance from Christ, yet we ought to know that he is looking at us; for he loveth his own, who are in the world; for we, have no reason to doubt that he still bears the same affection which he retained at the very moment of his death.

To remove from this world to the Father. This phrase is worthy of notice; for it refers to the knowledge of Christ, that he knew that his death was a passage to the heavenly kingdom of God. And if, while he was hastening thither, he did not cease to regard his own with his wonted love, there is no reason why we should now think that his affection is changed. Now, since he is the first-born from the dead, this definition of death applies to the whole body of the Church, that it is an opening or passage to go to God, from whom believers are now absent. 3838     “Que c’est une ouverture ou passage pour aller a Dieu.”

2. After supper. 3939     “Et apres avoir souppe.” — “And after having supped.” We shall afterwards take into consideration, at the proper place, the whole of Christ’s design in washing the feet of his disciples, and the advantage to be derived from this narrative. Let us now attend to the connection of the words. The Evangelist says that this was done, while Judas already resolved to betray Christ, not only to show the wonderful patience of Christ, who could endure to wash the feet of such a wicked and detestable traitor; but also that he purposely selected the time when he was near death, for performing what may be regarded as the last act of his life.

The devil having already put it into the heart of Judas. When the Evangelist says that Judas had been impelled by the devil to form the design of betraying Christ, this tends to show the enormity of the crime; for it was dreadful and most atrocious wickedness, in which the efficacy of Satan was openly displayed. There is no wickedness, indeed, that is perpetrated by men, to which Satan does not excite them, but the more hideous and execrable any crime is, the more ought we to view in it the rage of the devil, who drives about, in all possible directions, 4040     “Sursum ac deorsum.” — “Up and down.” men who have been forsaken by God. But though the lust of men is kindled into a fiercer flame by Satan’s fan, still it does not cease to be a furnace; it contains the flame kindled within itself, it receives with avidity the agitation of the fan, so that no excuse is left for wicked men.

3. Jesus, knoweth that the Father had given all things into his hands. I am of opinion that this was added for the purpose of informing us whence Christ obtained such a well-regulated composure of mind. It was because, having already obtained a victory over death, he raised his mind to the glorious triumph which was speedily to follow. It usually happens, that men seized with fear are greatly agitated. The Evangelist means, that no agitation of this sort was to be found in Christ, because, though he was to be immediately betrayed by Judas, still he knew that the Father had given all things into his hand. It may be asked, How then was he reduced to such a degree of sadness that he sweat blood? I reply, both were necessary. It was necessary that he should have a dread of death, and it was necessary that, notwithstanding of this, he should fearlessly discharge every thing that belonged to the office of the Mediator.

4. And layeth aside his garments. The meaning is, that he laid aside his upper garment, not his coat; for we know that the inhabitants of Eastern countries wore long garments

5. And began to wash the feet of his disciples. These words express the design of Christ, rather than the outward act; for the Evangelist adds, that he began with Peter.

6. Lord, dost thou wash my feet? This speech expresses strong dislike of the action as foolish and unsuitable; for by asking what Christ is doing, he puts out his hand, as it were, to push him back. The modesty would be worthy of commendation, were it not that obedience is of greater value in the sight of God than any kind of honor or service, or rather, if this were not the true and only rule of humility, to yield ourselves in obedience to God, and to have all our senses regulated by his good pleasure, so that every thing which he declares to be agreeable to Him shall also be approved by us, without any scruple. We ought, therefore, above all, to observe this rule of serving God, that we shall be always ready to acquiesce, without delay, as soon as he issues any command.

7. What I do. We are taught by these words, that we ought simply to obey Christ, even though we should not perceive the reason why he wishes this or that thing to be done. In a well-regulated house, one person, the head of the family, has the sole fight to say what ought to be done; and the servants are bound to employ their hands and feet in his service. That man, therefore, is too haughty, who refuses to obey the command of God, because he does not know the reason of it. But this admonition has a still more extensive meaning, and that is, that we should not take it ill to be ignorant of those things which God wishes to be hidden from us for a time; for this kind of ignorance is more learned than any other kind of knowledge, when we permit God to be wise above us.