As Archbishop Kurtz noted in his reflection on Holy Thursday, which we just heard, “Pope Francis has touched the Catholic imagination by humbly washing and kissing the feet of those he serves,” based on Jesus’ directive in the Gospel of John: “As I have done, so you must do” [John 13:15]. As Jesus washed the feet of Peter, and Judas, too, he must have lovingly thought of them.

We know that Peter was seemingly embarrassed that Jesus would wash his feet, since he says to Jesus, “Master, are you going to wash my feet?” Of course, Jesus’ response, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will understand later,” and Peter’s adamant statement, “You will never wash my feet,” prompts Jesus’ clear call, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” After this seeming battle of words, Peter concedes with the words, “Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.”  [John 13:6-9]

We don’t know how Judas reacted to Jesus washing his feet, but he had to have been at that meal. Rachelle Linner asks about Judas, “What was that intimate moment like for him? For Jesus? What if Judas had allowed himself to be pierced by the mercy embedded in Jesus’ humility? What if he had been able to forgive Jesus for not being the kind of savior he thought he should be? Can we learn from what he couldn’t do and forgive others for not being what we want them to be?”

This scene in John’s Gospel, the washing of feet, poses a choice of two disciples’ way of entering into who Jesus is. While Peter is quite impulsive and at first rejects the notion of having his feet washed, nevertheless he is persuaded to allow the foot-washing as a sign of his discipleship on Jesus’ terms, rather than his own. The other disciple, Judas, cannot imagine a Messiah that acts like a humble servant, and expects his disciple to do as he has done. Jesus knows who will betray him, for he says, “Not all of you are clean.” Judas was unable to forgive the Jesus in front of him and sold him out for a betrayer’s price and eventually in realizing what he had done, he killed himself. In that last moment, he could not reconcile the God he believed in with the forgiveness that would have surely been his, if had but asked.

Entering into foot-washing, as the beginning of the Triduum days of Jesus’ paschal mystery into resurrection, asks us to choose between Jesus’ humble request to do as he has done, that is, to wash each other’s feet, in whatever form we let go of preconceptions and assumptions of who one another is, and Judas’ betrayal of relationship and sticking unto death to what we cannot forgive, nor even conceive of asking for the grace to forgive when we lack ability to do so on our own. How we choose may determine the degree of our discipleship.

–Mary Forman, OSB


1 Archbishop Joseph Kurtzz, “Imagine,” Give Us This Day-Holy Thursday, April 2, 2015.

2 Rachelle Linner, “Tonight,” Give Us This Day – Holy Thursday, March 29, 2018, p. 341.