On Holy Thursday we celebrate with Jesus, the Passover of the old and the new. The old Passover was Israel’s remembrance of their liberation from the Egyptian slavery by shedding the blood of innocent lambs. In the new Passover, we celebrate Jesus saving all humanity from Satan’s slavery by shedding the blood of the perfect Lamb of God, Jesus. Besides circumcision from the time of Abraham that involved human bloodshed, God confirmed the old covenant by asking Moses to sprinkle animal blood on the Israelites at Mount Sinai. Jesus made the new covenant by asking us to drink from his blood. To prepare for this, we also join in Jesus’ washing the feet as a pledge of our humble service and cleanliness of our souls.
The Washing of the Disciples’ Feet (John 13:1-14)
(John 13:1) It was before the Feast of the Passover. Jesus realized that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. Having always loved those who were his own in the world, he loved them to the end. (2) They were at supper; and the devil had already put into the mind of Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray him. (3) Jesus knowing that the Father had entrusted all things to him, and as he had come from God, and was going to God, (4) got up from the table, removed his outer garment, and taking a towel wrapped it around his waist. (5) Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel he was wearing. (6) When he came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, do you mean to wash my feet!” (7) Jesus said, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterwards you will understand it.” (8) Peter replied, “No, you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you can have no part with me.” (9) Then Simon Peter said, “Then, Lord, wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head!” (10) Jesus replied, “Whoever has taken a bath does not need to wash, except the feet, for he is clean all over. You are clean, though not all of you.” (11) Jesus knew who was to betray him; that is why he said, “Not all of you are clean.” (12) When Jesus had finished washing their feet, he put on his outer garment again, went back to the table and said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? (13) You call me Master and Lord, and you are right, for that is what I am. (14) If I, then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you also must wash one another’s feet.
The Lord’s Supper
(Matthew 26:26) While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing and broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” (27) Then he took a cup and gave thanks, and passed it to them saying, ”Drink from this, all of you, (28) for this is my blood, the blood of the Covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (29) Yes, I say to you: I will not taste the fruit of the vine from now until the day I drink anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (30) After singing psalms of praise, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
The Washing of the Disciples’ Feet
(John 13:1) It was before the Feast of the Passover. Jesus realized that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. Having always loved those who were his own in the world, he loved them to the end.
It was before the Feast of the Passover.
Jesus’ Last Supper was a Jewish Passover meal that reminded the Israelites of how God delivered them from the Egyptian slavery. It also reminded them of how their forefathers slayed an unblemished lamb and marked its blood on the door posts of their houses, so the angel would avoid their first-born children’s death from the last plague. Jesus replaced the lamb’s blood with his own blood as the Lamb of God. He marked it on his cross, the new door to heaven, so he could save the lives of his first-born children in faith from eternal destruction.
Jesus realized that his hour had come.
We often hear in the gospel that Jesus’ hour had not yet come. Jesus’ hour is the time “to pass from this world to the Father” (John 13:1) by fulfilling his mission through his passion, death, and resurrection. Evangelist says that the hour has arrived, and Jesus knew it.
To pass from this world to the Father
Death for Jesus and his followers is a passage from this world to God the Father. Like the Israelites’ passage from the Egyptian slavery to the promised land, we also pass from the slavery of sin in this world to eternal freedom in heaven.
Having always loved those who were his own in the world
Jesus made his own those who left everything and followed him. He loved them like his family. Jesus was the head of the family, and the apostles were his “little children” (John 13:33). The time came for Jesus to depart from this world to his Father. However, he promised them he would not leave them as orphans (John 14:18). This description gives the mood of how Jesus and his apostles felt at the time during their farewell and how much Jesus loved and cared for them. John the Evangelist who documented this was an eyewitness to this event along with the other apostles.
He loved them to the end.
Jesus loved his own to the end of his life and affirmed it by offering his life for their salvation. His love would continue from heaven by supporting them in their mission till the end of their lives. We notice Jesus’ love to the end of his life on the cross by entrusting Mary and John to each other, by promising paradise to the repentant criminal crucified with him, and even forgiving and praying for those who persecuted him. He continued his love by appearing to his loved ones after his resurrection and sending the Holy Spirit upon the apostles on the day of Pentecost.
(2) They were at supper; and the devil had already put into the mind of Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray him.
The Evangelist John adds here Judas’ intention to betray Jesus for money under the devil’s influence. By this, John reveals what was going on in the minds of Jesus and Judas in that gloomy context of farewell Passover. The contrast in the mental status of Jesus and Judas that no one else knew gives the readers a dramatic mood of the situation.
(3) Jesus knowing that the Father had entrusted all things to him, and as he had come from God, and was going to God…
This verse of the power of Jesus that he inherited from his Father, sets the background for the humble act of washing the apostles’ feet. Before returning to his Father, Jesus wished to show a memorable message to his apostles who had been competing for noble positions.
(4) … got up from the table, removed his outer garment, and taking a towel wrapped it around his waist.
Got up from the table.
People in the past walked on dirty roads with sandals on their feet. They used to eat the meal reclining so the feet might be on the sofa and close to the face of the person reclining nearby. So, it was important that they wash their feet before entering a house. A slave, servant, or host (Luke 7:44) would wash the feet of the guest. Since the apostles had no host or servant to wash the feet, they skipped it. None of the apostles wanted to be at the service of others, not even to wash the feet of their Lord. So, they might have started the supper by washing themselves and without the ceremonial washing of feet. Jesus had noticed it and taught them a lesson by making himself a humble servant of his disciples. According to the Jewish practice, washing the feet should take place before the Passover celebration and not during the supper as Jesus did.
Removed his outer garment, and taking a towel wrapped it around his waist.
While serving, the servants take off their outer garment and tie a towel around their waist for practical reasons. Jesus needed that to wipe the wet feet of the apostles at the end of his washing. It amazed the apostles when Jesus dressed like a servant. They did not understand what he would do. Prophets had used symbolic and dramatic actions to convey strong and memorable messages to the people. Jesus used the same method. He was fulfilling what he had said earlier. “I am among you as the one who serves.” (Luke 22:27). “Be like the Son of Man who has come not to be served but to serve, and to give his life to redeem many.” (Matthew 20:28). Thus, the incarnate God did the menial job of a slave for his subjects.
(5) Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel he was wearing.
The family used to keep towel, wash basin, and a jug of water inside the house for repeated washing of hands in between different courses of food during the meal. Jesus used them for the feet washing. He did not seek the help of anyone in this service, like pouring water in the basin. He did everything himself, like a humble slave. According to the custom of the time, if there was no slave or a servant, an inferior would wash the feet of a superior like wife to her husband, children to the parents, disciples to the master; but not vice versa. By doing this act, Jesus touched the hearts and minds of his disciples. Besides washing the feet, Jesus was affectionately wiping the feet clean with the towel girded around his waist.
(6) When he came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, do you mean to wash my feet!”
He came to Simon Peter.
Scholars differ on whose feet Jesus washed first. Some say he washed the feet of Judas first; while others say he did it first to Simon Peter.
“Lord, do you mean to wash my feet!”
Peter was an outspoken person. His questioning the master for washing his feet was a natural reaction from his humility and respect for the master.
(7) Jesus said, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterwards you will understand it.”
Jesus later clarified the meaning of what he did in John 13:13-17. “If I, then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you also must wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14).
8) Peter replied, “No, you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you can have no part with me.”
“No, you shall never wash my feet.”
Though Jesus mentioned that they would understand the meaning of his act later, Peter objected to washing his feet out of his reverence for his master. The apostles did not understand what Jesus did. In Jesus’ mind, he was preparing his disciples to receive the Holy Eucharist that he planned to establish after the feet washing. This washing gave them warning that they should humble themselves to serve and purify themselves to administer and to receive the Holy Eucharist that they would continue in their lives.
If I do not wash you
Whenever Jesus had a Theological discussion, he would switch from a material sense to a spiritual understanding as he did with Nicodemus (John 3:1-21) and the Samaritan woman (John 4:4-42). In this discussion with Peter, Jesus shifted his reference from washing the dirt off the feet with water, to cleansing the sins of Peter with his precious blood and Holy Spirit. For Jesus, feet washing is not limiting the feet but symbolic of washing the whole person. So, he said, “I wash you.”
You can have no part with me.
Jesus would inherit the Kingdom of God after his passion, death, and resurrection. Jesus presented washing Peter with the blood and Holy Spirit as a requirement for him to inherit with Jesus the Kingdom of God in heaven. By addressing this to Peter, Jesus offered all his disciples a partnership with him in the Kingdom he would inherit from his Father. For that, we also must wash away our sins in the blood of Jesus and receive his Holy Spirit. Only those whom Christ washed will have a part in the church, in this world and in heaven.
(9) Then Simon Peter said, “Then, Lord, wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head!”
Peter did not understand what Jesus meant. He continued to take washing in the literal sense. So, out of enthusiasm, he asked the Lord to wash his hands and head, the uncovered parts of his body. He was ready to offer anything to inherit the Kingdom of God with Jesus. So, he requested Jesus to cleanse all actions of his hands and all the thoughts of his head.
(10) Jesus replied, “Whoever has taken a bath does not need to wash, except the feet, for he is clean all over. You are clean, though not all of you.”
Whoever has taken a bath does not need to wash, except the feet, for he is clean all over. Here also, Jesus has a physical and spiritual meaning in the statement. Those who came after a bath, needs only washing the dust or dirt off the feet. In the spiritual sense, those who received baptism in the blood of Jesus and his Holy Spirit need only a cleansing like the Sacrament of Reconciliation or an act of contrition. Only after that he shall partake in the Holy Eucharist, which is a foretaste of the eternal banquet in heaven.
You are clean, though not all of you.
Jesus here revealed an exception, though only he knew who the person was. Jesus washed Judas in the baptism of Christ and thus made him clean. However, the devil entered his heart and polluted it to love wealth more than the Lord, and to betray his master for money.
(11) Jesus knew who was to betray him; that is why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
Jesus knew what was in Judas’ mind while he was taking part in the Last Supper and in the washing of the feet. Jesus was polite not to identify the person who would betray him. Judas heard Jesus’ words as a warning to him. However, he was so attached to wealth that he could not resist the temptation and accept the discourse of Jesus. Those who are under the devil’s possession will not be willing to open their minds to the Word of God. Those who are slaves of terrible addiction would avoid any spiritual warning.
(12) When Jesus had finished washing their feet, he put on his outer garment again, went back to the table and said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you?”
Reclined at table again.
After washing the feet, Jesus took the position back as the master to instruct them and to share the Passover meal with them. People ate meals in a reclining position during those days. They did the Passover meal in Egypt standing. Later they did it reclining, to show their relaxation and freedom because of their redemption from slavery.
Do you understand what I have done to you?
Jesus raised this question, not expecting any answer from the apostles but to get their attention for his interpretation.
(13) You call me Master and Lord, and you are right, for that is what I am.
Students were not used to call their teacher by name among the Jews. So, they called “teacher,” “Master” or “Lord” with respect.
(14) If I, then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you also must wash one another’s feet.
Jesus, who washed his disciples’ feet like a slave, also emphasized his position above them by repeating and reversing the words “Master and Lord” to magnify their role to be servants to one another regardless of their position in the community. It is not a suggestion, but a commandment is clear from the term “you must.” Jesus had shown his law of humility and service in action.
The Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:26-30)
Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist (Qurbana) while he celebrated the Passover with his disciples in an upper room in Jerusalem. So, we need to understand the Last Supper in the background of the Jewish Passover. Israelites celebrated Passover, one of the three pilgrim feasts, in Jerusalem (Leviticus 23: 4-14, Deuteronomy 16:1-8). They sacrificed a lamb in the Temple and took home its meat and ate during the Passover meal. They followed seder, which means an “order” for the procedure of Paschal feast. This procedure has 15 steps with prayers given in a book known as Haggadah. The fifteen corresponds to the 15th day of Nissan when Passover starts or the 15 semi-circular steps from the Court of Women to the Court of Israel in the Temple. Levites sang the fifteen “Psalms of the Steps” (Psalms 120-134 of Degrees or Ascents) with musical instruments there.
The procedures for Passover meal, along with how Jesus observed it, are:
THE PREPARATIONS FOR PASSOVER
THE 15 STEPS OF THE PASSOVER MEAL
Step 1. Kadeish (Sanctification): The head of the family who sits at the place of honor would take the first of the four wine cups and fill it with wine mixed with water (grape juice for children) and pronounce a thanksgiving over it. He would taste it first and then pass it to all present. The four cups of wine stand for the four “I will,” in Exodus 6:6-7. “I will free you from the burden of the Egyptians (The Cup of Sanctification) and I will deliver you from their bondage (The Cup of Deliverance); I will redeem you with the blows of my powerful hand and my mighty acts of judgement (The Cup of Redemption). I will take you for my people and I will be your God (The Cup of Restoration); you will realize that I am the LORD your God who delivered you from the burden of the Egyptians.” (Exodus 6:6-7).
Step 2. Urchatz (Washing of Hands): Participants wash their hands by pouring water on the right hand three times and then the left had three times to prepare for eating the herbs dipped in saltwater. This was necessary because they were eating without using utensils like the spoon and fork.
Step 3. Karpas or Bitter Herbs (parsley): People eat karpas after dipping it in saltwater. The vegetable is symbolic of Israelites’ poor background, and the saltwater represents their tears shed in Egypt during the slavery and throughout their history. The saltwater also reminds them the crossing of the Red Sea with God’s providence while leaving Egypt. Then they pour wine into the second cup.
Step 4. Yachatz (Breaking of middle matzo bread): The family places three matzo breads in three pockets of matzo cover. Matzo bread is unleavened flat bread with stripes and piercings on it, symbolic of the scourging and nailing of the Messiah according to the Christian interpretation. These three breads, according to the Christian interpretation, stand for the Most Holy Trinity. The head of the family breaks the middle bread standing for Messiah into two pieces reminding the broken body of Christ for our sins. The leader returns the smaller piece symbolic of the “bread of affliction” to the pocket and keeps the larger one representing Pesach Sacrifice in a hidden place in another cover. For Christians, this stands for the burial of Jesus.
Step 5. Magid (Story telling) of Exodus from Egypt as a question-answer session. The youngest son or the least significant person would ask four questions on why that night differs from the banquet of other nights. The head of the family would give the answers and clarify the significance of the special food items. Participants then drink the second cup of wine. They then recite first half of the Hallel Psalms 113-114.
Step 6. Rachtzah (Second hand washing): The participants wash their hands a second time with a blessing to prepare for eating the matzah, the unleavened bread. The family then serve Paschal Lamb, charoseth (a paste of nuts and fruits) with vegetables, and two of the unleavened bread wafers.
Step 7. Motzi. The blessing for bread holding the remaining matzah bread.
Step 8. Matzah (Unleavened Bread): Everyone eats a part of the top and the middle matzah. They lean to the left when they eat.
Step 9. Maror (Bitter Herbs): The participants eat bitter vegetable-like raw horseradish or romaine lettuce after reciting a blessing over it. Bitter Herbs remind the bitterness of slavery. They dip the bitter herb in charoset, a sweet dark-colored paste made from mixing apples, nuts, cinnamon, and wine. They signify the mortar Israelites used for the construction work in Egypt during their slavery.
Step 10. Koresh (Matzah Sandwich): The participants fill two pieces of Matzah with Maror and Romaine lettuce. They recite a special prayer and eat the Koresh while leaning to the left.
Step 11. Shulchan Orech (Dinner): The head of the family cuts the Pascal lamb into pieces and gives a part to each family member with unleavened bread and bitter herbs dipped in sauce.
Step 12. Tzafun / Afikoman (Half-piece Matzo bread): The head of the family asks children to find the piece of matzah bread that he hid earlier. Its finding represents Jesus’ resurrection according to the Christian view. Once recovered, they break that into pieces and eat saying, “This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in Egypt.” (Exodus 13:3). At this point Jesus established the Holy Eucharist using the Afikoman bread. “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing and broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’” (Matthew 26:26).
Step 13. Barech (The Cup of Redemption): The head of the family then serves the third cup of wine, saying a blessing over the cup. All the participants share it. Jesus instituted the second part of the Holy Eucharist at this part of the Passover observance. “Then he took a cup and gave thanks, and passed it to them saying, ‘Drink from this, all of you, for this is my blood, the blood of the Covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’” (Matthew 26:27-28). Jesus and his apostles left the room to the Garden of Gethsemane at this moment. The rest of the Passover continued through his sacrifice as the Lamb of God on the Cross.
Then the participants pour wine on the fourth cup. They set aside an additional cup for the prophet Elijah, who would announce Messiah on a Pesach day. Then one of them opens a door to invite the prophet into the house.
Step 14. Hallel (Praises): The participants recite the rest of the psalms (Hallel) (Psalms 115-118) followed by a blessing over the fourth cup of wine and drink it. Jesus considered the fourth cup as his suffering, and prayed at the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if it is your will, remove this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42). However, Jesus accepted and tasted this fourth cup when he was on the cross.
Step 15. Nirtzah (Closing): The Passover concludes saying “It is finished” and with the prayer, “Next Year in Jerusalem” hoping that they might celebrate Pesach the following year in Jerusalem with the Messiah. Jesus also said, “It is finished” after tasting the fourth cup on the cross just before his death.
(Matthew 26:26) While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing and broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
While they were eating, Jesus took bread.
While Jesus and his apostles were eating the Paschal meal, and before drinking the third cup of wine, Jesus took the bread. This specially cooked unleavened bread symbolizes sinlessness.
Melchizedek offered bread and wine to God. He was the priest of Salem which is Jerusalem (Genesis 14:18). Jesus became the High Priest after the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4). He revived Melchizedek’s offering and replaced the animal sacrifice in the Temple with the Holy Eucharist.
Said the blessing and broke it and gave it to his disciples.
Jesus said a blessing over the unleavened bread to transubstantiate it to his body. Breaking the bread was symbolic of the sufferings the Israelites underwent in the past. When Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist, it became representative of his passion and death. Jesus broke the bread and passed the pieces to his apostles.
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
Jesus calls the bread his body, and not a symbol of his body. Jesus fulfilled his promise, “I am the bread of life. Though your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, they died. But here you have the bread which comes down from heaven so that you may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which has come down from heaven; whoever eats of this bread will live forever. The bread I shall give is my own flesh and I will give it for the life of the world.” (John 6:48-51).
(27) Then he took a cup and gave thanks, and passed it to them saying, “Drink from this, all of you.”
He took a cup.
Jesus took the third cup known as “The cup of Redemption.” This cup had wine mixed with a little water called “the cup of blessing” (1 Cor. 10:16) because of a special blessing said over it thanking God for the wine and food the Israelites could produce by God’s grace. It was the principal cup which they did after the Pascal meal. The red represented the Passover lamb’s blood marked on the door posts of the Israelites in Egypt when the angel of death passed over their houses. Similarly, Christ’s blood marked on the cross saved the people.
Drink from this, all of you.
Jesus asked his apostles to drink his “blood” of the new covenant. The Jews could not drink any blood because it represented the life of the person or animal. Unlike Moses sprinkling the people with the animal blood (Exodus 24:6), Jesus was giving his own sacramental blood for his believers to drink because his covenant was not external but internal. When a believer drinks the sacramental blood of Jesus, he receives the life of Jesus and becomes in communion with his life.
(28) … for this is my blood, the blood of the Covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
The blood of the Covenant
Jesus here used the same phrase used for the Old Covenant that God made with Israelites through Moses at Mount Sinai as given in Exodus 24:3-8. People agreed to all the ordinances of the Lord when Moses came down from the mountain and reported to them. Moses then built an altar at the foot of the mountain. The Israelites offered burnt offerings of young bulls. Moses took half of the blood in large bowls and the other half he splashed on the altar. He read aloud from the book of the covenant to the people who responded, “All that the LORD has said we shall do and obey.” Moses splashed the blood on the people, saying, “Here is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
Just as Moses was the mediator of the old covenant, Jesus became the mediator of the New Covenant established at the Last Supper and fulfilled on Calvary. After using wine for his blood, Jesus shed his blood for humanity through the torture and crucifixion he underwent. This was the fulfillment of the new covenant Jeremiah prophesied (31:31-33).
Which is poured out
After Jesus blessed the cup, he shed his blood within hours, on the same date according to the Hebrew Calendar. Israelites killed lambs in Egypt to save their first-born children. Jesus let the Jews crucify him in Jerusalem to save all humanity from spiritual death.
Jesus’ life sacrifice was to save all people. So, all are eligible for redemption. However, each one has the freedom to accept or reject it. “Many” will accept and benefit from it.
For the forgiveness of sins
The bloodshed of Jesus was for the forgiveness of the sins of all. The animal sacrifices of the past were for ritual and ceremonial purification. They could not take away the sins of humanity, especially the original sin inherited from the first parents. The divine sacrifice of Jesus in his human suffering replaced all of them because it was the perfect sacrifice that could take away the sins of humanity.
(29) “Yes, I say to you: I will not taste the fruit of the vine from now until the day I drink anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
In my Father’s kingdom
The Father’s kingdom is distinct from the kingdom of the Messiah. The Kingdom of Messiah had started with Jesus’ incarnation, continued through his resurrection, ascension, descent of the Holy Spirit, the growth of the church, the second coming of Christ, and until Jesus would present all the saved to his Father. Then only the Kingdom of the Father will take place.
The day I drink anew
Christ will drink the new spiritual wine, the best wine reserved for the last in the Father’s kingdom. This resembles the wedding at Cana, where Jesus gave the best wine at the end of the banquet (John 2:10). Then, “many will come from east and west and sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob at the feast in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 8:11). Wine and banquet are representations of the spiritual joy in heaven.
(30) After singing psalms of praise, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
After singing psalms of praise
Jesus skipped the fourth cup of the Passover so he could complete it at the crucifixion. After the second part of the songs of praise called “Hallel,” he left to offer his life as the sacrificial lamb. When Jesus was near death on the cross, “Jesus knew that all was now finished and he said, ‘I am thirsty,’ in fulfilment of Scripture. A jar full of bitter wine stood there; so, putting a sponge soaked in the wine on a hyssop stalk, they raised it to his lips. Jesus took the wine and said, ‘It is now fulfilled.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up the spirit.” (John 19:28-30). When Jesus spoke “It is finished,” he was not referring to his life’s end but to the 15th step of the Passover celebration. Thus, on the cross, Jesus finished his Passover meal by drinking the fourth cup and declaring the end of his Passover observance.
They went out to the Mount of Olives.
The Mount of Olives was on the east side of Jerusalem, where Jesus used to go for prayer. Jesus knew that Judas would lead the Jewish soldiers there to arrest him because the disciples knew his place of night prayer whenever he was in Jerusalem.