December 2, 2020

Holy Week with Duccio: Washing the Disciples’ Feet

Duccio Washing

And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God,got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’

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?You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am.So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

– John 13:1-14

Many New Testament scholars believe that the famous “kenosis” passage in Philippians 2:5-11 is actually an ancient hymn based on the events of John 13. It certainly brings out one of the great lessons of the footwashing account.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.



  1. If that doesn’t show us (because of our unwillingness) the occasion for Good Friday, then I don’t know what does.

    He tells us what to do. He shows us what to do. And so often, we just couldn’t care less.

  2. I have been spending time reading two Catholic websites recently. One is what you may call a “liberal Catholic” website and the other is a “conservative Catholic” website. The conservatives are saying that it is canon law that only the feet of males are to be washed, not women, and they are wondering if Pope Francis will wash the feet of some of the imprisoned girls in the prison for juveniles in Italy where he is saying Mass today. At least a couple of the people posting there are saying that if he does, then we don’t have to listen to the Pope because he is behaving outside the canon law! The liberals are hoping he willwash the girls’ feet. It will be a private Mass, however, so we will just have to find out afterwards if anyone tells us what happens and I am guessing that they will tell us.

    When I read what those conservatives wrote, I can’t help but think of Jesus talking with the Pharisees who were more concerned about the letter of the law instead of the spirit of God.

    • A great many of us believe that Jesus’ example, more than to be taken literally, is to show us to give of ourselves, selflessly, to our neighbors in need.

      • I agree, Steve. Jesus was giving us an “example” of being a servant. I think he would be amazed (and maybe amused?) to know that some people had put his example into “law.”

        • JoanieD,

          Well, Jesus himself made it ‘law’…by making it a ‘command’.

          It’s not an option for us. That we so often refuse to do it, exposes us and condemns us.

          That’s the bad news.

          The Good News is that he went to that Cross for us, nonetheless. And forgave (forgives us)…in spite of our willful disobedience to the law.

          • Steve, Jesus commanded by this example that his disciples were to serve one another. But he didn’t command that it be put into law that in the future, when this example is re-enacted, only men’s feet would be washed.

            By the way, Pope Francis DID wash the feet of two girls today and also two young Muslims.

          • And hot off the, um, computer screen – some video of the visit to the Casal del Marmo.

        • Dana Ames says

          From scripture, we know that Jesus’ mother Mary was in Jerusalem because she was at the cross. We also know that other Galilean women were there. This is one of the few things that appear in all 4 Gospels: Matthew 27.55-56, Mark 15.40-41, Luke 23.49, John 19.25.

          Passover was a family celebration, and those who could make it to Jerusalem were commanded to go for the holy days. So these women were there, and perhaps children as well, because it was the feast, and because Jesus had gone there.

          When John describes the foot washing, he says Jesus washed the feet of “the disciples” – not The Twelve. There were more disciples than The Twelve. Therefore, it is entirely possible (likely?) that women and children had their feet washed, too.

          I know, I know – an argument from silence.

          But still.


          • I agree, Dana.

          • You know part of the passover seder is the netilat yadayim (washing of hands) it at this point that Jesus washes the feet of the disciples…and maybe some of the women’s feet.

    • This is one where I’m in the middle on it 🙂

      Canonically, yes, the rite is tied up with the Mass of the Last Supper and it should only be males – however, it should only be ordained males, not lay men (since the institution of the priesthood and the Eucharist are considered to have their exemplars and origins in the Last Supper).

      So if lay people are to have their feet washed, I see no reason why women can’t be included. If either side (conservative or progressive) are going to be horrified/encouraged lest this is sending a message about women’s ordination, I suggest they – go and dunk their heads in a basin of water 😉

      If people really are going to get fits of the vapours over this, then a sensible suggestion I have seen is to carry out the rite either before or after the Mass; to quote the Wikipedia article “From 1570 to 1955, the Roman Missal printed, after the text of the Holy Thursday Mass, a rite of washing of feet unconnected with the Mass. The 1955 revision by Pope Pius XII inserted it into the Mass. ”

      So it’s not an absolutely vital part of the Maundy Thursday Mass, and by extension it is not absolutely vital to confine it to the ordained, or men only. I’m conservative liturgically, and as I said, I see no reason to wibble either way (We’re so rubrically correct! We’re so inclusive and affirming!). Talk about swallowing a camel and straining a gnat – the important part is “If I, your lord, have done this – go and do likewise and don’t be obsessing over who is and who is not going to get the prime position in the kingdom”.

      • petrushka1611 says


      • From my Catholic upbringing (12 years of Catholic school) I remember that the pope is supposed to be infallible when dealing with the issues of “faith and morals”. If, indeed, he washes women’s feet then he is just following Peter’s example when he entered the house of Cornelius, a gentile, ALSO a hard and fast doctrine at the time. Peter claimed to have received a vision, it is true, but I don’t believe that Francis has to claim the same revelation in order to change a long held tradition. But what do I know, I’m just a backslidden Catholic!

    • “At least a couple of the people posting there are saying that if he does, then we don’t have to listen to the Pope because he is behaving outside the canon law! ”

      Ladies, gentlemen and others – a textbook example of what is meant by “More Catholic than the Pope”.

      Biting my tongue here because it is Holy Week and I’m supposed to be edifying my soul, not calling my fellows hard names. But they make it sooooo tempting…

    • I’m reminded of the Buddhist story of two monks who came to a river bank. They saw a beautiful woman standing there, distressed because she couldn’t cross. The older monk picked her up and carried her across the river and left her on the other side. The two monks walked on some ways until the younger one could stand it no longer and burst out, “I can’t believe you broke your vows and picked up that woman!” “Are you still carrying her, brother?” smiled the older monk. “I put her down miles ago.”

  3. I need this today, like breath.

  4. br. thomas says

    What amazes (and truly humbles) me is that Jesus washes Judas Iscariot’s feet as well – even though He knows that Judas will betray Him. It is one thing to preach: “love your enemies and bless them”; – it is quite another to actually do it!

    • Only He could do it…and with pure motives.

      Not that we shouldn’t ‘try’. Even if our motives are shot to hell…our neighbor would benefit from the once in a blue moon (ha! – if that often) that we would try and serve our enemies.