It is striking – and deeply heart-breaking – that the two disciples named in tonight’s gospel, Judas and Peter, are the two friends of Jesus who abandoned him at the end. One would betray him, the other would deny knowing him. At this last supper together with Jesus, both Judas and Peter would have their feet washed in a parable of service, and both would partake of that first eucharistic meal.
Jesus had every intention that night – this night, in memorial – to do this. “The father had put everything in his hands,” we are told, to allow him to act as he saw fit. He intended to take on the grime of his friends, removing his clean outer garments so as to properly and thoroughly clean away their dirt. He intended to feed them with his body and blood. He intended to allow both of them – and the others, who would also abandon him at the end – to see him as their servant, to experience his cleansing of them, to receive him in the flesh.
Judas and Peter did not know at that time why Jesus would do these things to them; they did not yet know the desolation of their own hearts, even though he did. All that Jesus did to Judas and Peter, and the others, that night before he died, he did it for them who would abandon him.
Why? St Paul would say of that night, Jesus did this as a memorial of him. St John, for his part, would say that Jesus did it as an example to follow. To remember, and to follow.
Tonight, we seek to remember the One who gives himself humbly and without reproach to those who would abandon him; instead, calling them his friends. We remember Jesus, who sees before him only those whom he seeks to save, and not to punish. We remember not simply to recall what happened on this night, but so that it finds its proper meaning in what will happen tomorrow.
And tonight, we seek to follow the One who sees our weakness yet looks to serve. We follow Jesus, who has forgiven us even before forgiveness is needed. We follow his example not because we are any different from Judas and Peter – we’re not – but that we might be washed clean and fed with the food we need for the journey ahead.
“Knowing that his hour had come to pass from this world to his Father, having loved those who were his in the world, Jesus loved them to the end… Do this, in memory of me.”
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference20 April 2021