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12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

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12. When then he had washed their feet. Christ at length explains what was his intention in washing the feet of his disciples; for what he had said about the spiritual washing was a sort of digression from his main design. Had it not been for the opposition made by Peter, Christ would not have spoken on that subject. Now, therefore, he discloses the reason of what he had done; namely, that he who is the Master and Lord of all gave an example to be followed by all the godly, that none might grudge to descend to do a service to his brethren and equals, however mean and low that service might be. For the reason why the love of the brethren is despised is, that every man thinks more highly of himself than he ought, and despises almost every other person. Nor did he intend merely to inculcate modesty, but likewise to lay down this rule of brotherly love, that they should serve one another; for there is no brotherly love where there is not a voluntary subjection in assisting a neighbor.

Know you what I have done? We see that Christ, for a short time, concealed his intention from his disciples, but that, after having tried their obedience, he seasonably revealed to them that which it was not expedient for them previously to know. Nor does he now wait till they ask, but of his own accord anticipates them. The same thing will be experienced by us also, provided that we suffer ourselves to be guided by his hand, even through unknown ways.

14. If then I, who am your Lord and Master. This is an argument from the greater to the less. Pride hinders us from maintaining that equality which ought to exist amongst us. But Christ, who is far exalted above all others, stoops down, that he may make the proud men ashamed, who, forgetting their station and rank, look upon themselves as not bound to hold intercourse with the brethren. For what does a mortal man imagine himself to be, when he refuses to bear the burdens of brethren, to accommodate himself to their customs, and, in short, to perform those offices by which the unity of the Church is maintained? In short, he means that the man who does not think of associating with weak brethren, on the condition of submitting mildly and gently even to offices which appear to be mean, claims more than he has a right to claim, and has too high an opinion of himself. 4747     “Cestuy-la s’attribue plus qu’il ne faut, et fait trop grand conte de soy.”

15. For I have given you an example. It deserves our attention that Christ says that he gave an example; for we are not at liberty to take all his actions, without reserve, as subjects of imitation. The Papists boast that, by Christ’s example, they observe the forty days’ fast, or Lent. But we ought first to see whether or not he intended to lay down his fast as an example that the disciples might conform to it as a rule. We read: nothing of this sort, and, therefore, the imitation of it is not less wicked than if they attempted to fly to heaven. Besides, when they ought to have followed Christ, they were not imitators, but apes. Every year they have a fashion of washing some people’s feet, as if it were a farce which they were playing on the stage; 4848     “Comme s’ils jouyoient une farce sur des eschaffauts.” and so, when they have performed this idle and unmeaning ceremony, they think that they have fully discharged their duty, and reckon themselves at liberty to despise their brethren during the rest of the year. 4949     “Tout le reste de l’an.” But — what is far worse 5050     “Il y a bien pis.” — after having washed the feet of twelve men, they subject every member of Christ to cruel torture, and thus spit in Christ’s face. This display of buffoonery, therefore, is nothing else than a shameful mockery of Christ. At all events, Christ does not here enjoin an annual ceremony, but bids us be ready, throughout our whole life, to wash the feet of our brethren and neighbors. 5151     “De nos fi,eres et prochains.”

16. Verily, verily, I tell you. These are indeed proverbial sayings, which admit of a far more extensive application, but which ought to be accommodated to the case in hand. In my opinion, therefore, they are mistaken who suppose them to have a general acceptation, as if Christ were now exhorting his disciples to bear the cross; for it is more correct to say that he employed them to serve his purpose.

17. If you know these things. He declares that they are happy, if they know and do these things; for knowledge is not entitled to be called true, unless it produce such an effect on believers as to lead them to conform themselves to their Head. On the contrary, it is a vain imagination, when we look upon Christ, and the things which belong to Christ, as separate from ourselves. We may infer from this that, until a man has learned to yield to his brethren, he does not know if Christ be the Master. Since there is no man who performs his duty to his brethren hi all respects, and since there are many who are careless and sluggish in brotherly offices, this shows us that we are still at a great distance from the full light of faith.