(From: The Joy of Knowing Christ: Meditations on the Gospels by Pope Benedict XVI)
Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1). God loves his creature, man; he even loves him in his fall and does not leave him to himself. He loves him to the end. He is impelled with his love to the very end, to the extreme; he came down from his divine glory.
He cast aside the raiment of his divine glory and put on the garb of a slave. He came down to the extreme lowliness of our fall. He kneels before us and carries out for us the service of a slave: he washes our dirty feet so that we might be admitted to God’s banquet and be made worthy to take our place at his table – something that on our own, we neither could nor would ever be able to do.
God is not a remote god, too distant or too great to be bothered with our trifles. Since God is great, he can also be concerned with small things. Since he is great, the soul of man, the same man, created through eternal love, is not a small thing but great, and worthy of God’s love.
God’s holiness is not merely an incandescent power before which we are obliged to withdraw, terrified. It is a power of love and therefore a purifying and healing power.
God descends and becomes a slave; he washes our feet so that we may come to his table. In this, the entire mystery of Jesus Christ is expressed. In this, what redemption means becomes visible.
The basin in which he washes us is his love, ready to face death. Only love has that purifying power which washes the grime from us and elevates us to God’s heights. The basin that purifies us is God himself, who gives himself to us without reserve – to the very depths of his suffering and his death. He is ceaselessly this love that cleanses us; in the sacraments of purification – Baptism and the Sacrament of Penance – he is continually on his knees at our feet and carries out for us the service of a slave, the service of purification, making us capable of God. His love is inexhaustible; it truly goes to the very end.
Let us add a final word to this inexhaustible gospel passage: “For I have given you an example: (John 13:15); “You also ought to was one another’s feet” (13:14). Of what does “washing one another’s feet” consist? What does it actually mean?
This: every good work for others – especially for the suffering and those not considered to be worth much – is a service of the washing of feet.
The Lord calls us to do this: to come down, learn humility and the courage of goodness, and also the readiness to accept rejection and yet to trust in goodness and persevere in it.
But there is another, deeper dimension. The Lord removes the dirt from us with the purifying power of his goodness. Washing one another’s feet means, above all, tirelessly forgiving one another, beginning together ever anew, however pointless it may seem. It means purifying one another by bearing with one another and by being tolerant of others; purifying one another, giving one another the sanctifying power of the Word of God, and introducing one another into the sacrament of divine love.
The Lord purifies us, and for this reason, we dare to approach his table. Let us pray to him to give to all of us the grace of being able to one day be guests forever at the eternal nuptial banquet. Amen!
Homily, April 13, 2006
Pope Benedict XVI. (2009). The Joy of Knowing Christ: Meditations on the Gospels. Maryland: The Word Among Us Press.