Yesterday while watching our parish priest kneel and kneel again on the hard sanctuary steps to wash the feet of twelve people who volunteer in our parish, I was struck by the outrageous fact that God Himself washed the dirty feet of rough and humble men.
In the Gospel it tells us that Jesus removed his outer garment, wrapped a towel about his waist, and washed the disciples' feet. Of course, Peter didn't want his Messiah to wash his feet:
"Master, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus answered and said to him, "What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered him, "Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me."
After he had performed this act of service for the apostles, Jesus said:
"Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me 'teacher' and 'master,' and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet."
And there I encounter in my Savior's words again a crazy truth about this God-man that we Christians love so madly. Sometimes more than God's majesty and power, I am astounded by His humility. Born in a stable where animals lived and ate, raised as a carpenter's son, lived as an itinerant preacher in the last few years before his Crucifixion, followed by fishermen, tax collectors and prostitutes. Humble. He even chooses to describe Himself so:
"Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy and my burden light." Matthew 11:28-30
And he tells us that we must be so:
At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, "Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven, Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 18:1-4
"You know that the rulers of the gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant, whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many." Matthew 20:25-28
The Son of Man, the firstborn among many brethren through whom we become the adopted sons and daughters of God, came not to be served but to serve.
Holy Thursday Mass reminds us of that every year as we watch our priests wash feet and then we participate in the Eucharistic prayer from the Last Supper - that Christ came to serve and be our perfect paschal sacrifice, so that death would pass over us.
This is the Son of God who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey's back. At the Last Supper he took the wine and said, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you." (Luke 22:20) When he had endured torture, a crown of thorns was shoved upon his head, and soldiers spat on, hit and mocked him, Jesus said nothing.
That is unbelievable humility.
We must try to be like him. As our parish deacon reflected in his Holy Thursday homily, we must remove our outer garments of privilege, pride, selfishness and fear, and put on the apron of service for those who need us to be Christ to them.
As St. Paul said:
Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness,
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.