The sword or the towel?

– Holy Thursday –

It was before the festival of the Passover, and Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to pass from this world to the Father. He had always loved those who were his in the world, but now he showed how perfect his love was.

They were at supper, and the devil had already put it into the mind of Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray him. Jesus knew the hour that the Father had put everything into his hands, and that he had come from God and was returning to God, and he got up from table, removed his outer garment and, taking a towel, wrapped it round his waist; he then poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel he was wearing. [John 13:1-15] 

The washing of the disciples’ feet is one of the most profound statements about the kind of leader and ‘king’ Jesus is. We can imagine a king as one who comes with a sword and who demands obedience and service. Yet in today’s gospel, we find Christ the King comes not with the sword but with the towel. He doesn’t require people to follow him; he invites them to choose him as their king. Those who do follow him aren’t forced to serve him; instead, he serves them. His “kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36), he turns all notions of king and kingdom on their head. In Jesus’ kingdom, it is the king who gives up his life for his people; it is the king who loves the people and the people who are at times unfaithful to the king rather than vice versa. The hallmarks of Jesus’ kingdom are faith, hope and love – and these hallmarks multiply when shared.

In today’s reading, it is Peter who struggles to come to terms with Jesus’ kingship. When Jesus comes to wash Peter’s feet, Peter objects, ‘You shall never wash my feet.’ For Peter, this is all back to front. It’s not right that Jesus serves him. But this is the paradox of the Christian tradition. Jesus doesn’t demand that we serve him; he first desires to serve us. He asks us to allow him to do the work. He asks us to allow him to clean us. It is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:9).

Today, Jesus asks us if he can wash our feet. He wants to know if we will allow him to make us clean. He is asking us whether we’ll allow him to serve us, that we may then serve others: “If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should wash each other’s feet.”

Holy Spirit, grant us the humility to allow Jesus to wash our feet, to clean us so that we can do the same for others.


by Peter Pellicaan

get the daily reflections sent directly to your email

Copyright © 2020 · All Rights Reserved

Thank you, we'll be in touch soon

You can close this page now, or if you would like to learn more about us, check out our website.