From Fr. Aidan Smith
The twelve disciples don’t know it, but everything is about to change. After years of being with Jesus, they don’t realize that the meal they are sharing will come to be known as their “Last.” They don’t realize that once supper is over, once the table is cleared, they will all abandon their Lord.
The disciples might not know this yet, but we’re told that Jesus is fully aware. He is aware of everything that is happening. Jesus knows what his friends are going to do. He knows about their betrayal. He knows that he’ll be arrested, put on the trial, and eventually killed. He knows that he will have to walk this way of suffering alone. His friends will leave him alone.
But Jesus also knew that God the Father had put all things under his power. He “knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to his Father.” And that no matter what calamity might befall him in the hours to come, he had come from God and now he was returning to God. This was all part of the Father’s plan to save the world, to save humanity. This was God’s plan to save the disciples that will beray him, the disciples he loved.
So, the text says, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” In the middle of the meal Jesus rose up from his meal and took off his outer clothing. He wrapped a towel around his waist and poured water into a basin and then he began to wash the disciples’ feet. He went from disciple to disciple, washing and wiping, cleansing and cleaning, doing the work of the lowest servant.
As Jesus did this, he gave us all an example of how we should live our lives. But it’s important to remember that in washing the disciple’s feet, Jesus did far more than just provide us an example for how to serve one another. He is providing commentary about what will transpire in the hours to come. We note that when Jesus comes to Peter who, at first refuses to have his feet washed, Jesus says: “You don’t understand what I’m doing now, but afterward you will.” “Afterward,” as Jesus’ life is poured out on the cross, poured out like water into a basin, all the disciples will begin to understand how much he loves them. We all will.
None of this surprises Jesus. He knew it all before he washed anyone’s feet. He knew it before he sat down for dinner. He knew it before the foundation of the world. And still loved them—and he loved them to the end. And still he loves us—to the end, no matter what.