The Pope and the Lord's Supper

"Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for [so] I am. If I then, [your] Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them. " (John 13:13-17)

The Lord's Supper

Holy Thursday, or Maundy Thursday, is an important day in the Christian calendar. Catholics sometimes refer to this day as The Feast of the Priesthood. It marks our Savior's Last Supper with the Twelve and the institution of the Lord's Supper, which believers throughout the world celebrate to this day.

Christ used the occasion to teach a powerful lesson in humility.

He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe [them] with the towel wherewith he was girded. Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also [my] hands and [my] head. Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash [his] feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean. So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for [so] I am. If I then, [your] Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.--John 13:4-17

Recall again the circumstances. The Apostles accepted that Jesus was the Son of God, Messiah. They did not understand the Kingdom, nor Christ's role, but they knew Him. As they walked along with their King, they speculated on their future roles and maneuvered for better position and status after Messiah established His reign. Jesus did remonstrate with them, but the lesson apparently did not strike home with full force, for the disciples even jockeyed for position at the Passover table

The Jews had been celebrating Passover for a lot of years, and had developed quite explicit rules concerning the arrangement of the table itself and the disposition of guests. The table was not at all like that depicted in Renaissance paintings, but was a typical low Eastern table, rectangular or oval in shape, with pillows for the diners to recline on arranged along the two long sides and one end. It was the custom for the host to occupy the position at the middle of one side. We know from the Gospel account that John occupied the pillow to our Lord's right, which would have put him at the end, or head of the table. Judas apparently managed to lay claim to the Master's left. This would explain how Jesus was able to whisper to John by what sign to recognize the traitor without the others hearing. It also explains how Christ would first hand Judas the sop, which was part of the Passover ritual, beginning with him as chief guest without causing the others to take special notice. Finally, it explained how Judas, anxious to learn if his treachery were known, could ask if it was him and receive the affirmative response without the others at the table being any the wiser.

Peter likely was reclining at the end of the horseshoe arrangement, at the foot of the table as it were, across from John. Likely, he still was smarting from our Lord's rebuke over their self-seeking striving and the subsequent lesson in humility. Being in such a position would explain how Peter was able to beckon to John, who was seated across the table from him, and ask who the traitor was. It seems likely the others were gathered about the table according to convenience or personal relationships.

With His rebuke for their unseemly striving still ringing in the Apostles' ears, our Lord commenced the Passover Supper, which itself was a symbol and pledge of what He had just said and promised. That Supper always began by the Host taking the first cup and speaking "the thanksgiving" over it. After the thanksgiving prayer, the cup, in which according to express rabbinical testimony water had been mixed with the wine, was passed round. At that point, the ceremonial ritual required the Host to to rise and wash hands. There were two ritual handwashings during the Passover meal, the first by the host alone and the second some time later by all the assembly. Apparently, Jesus' washing of the Apostles' feet occurred following the first handwashing, for it would have been difficult for Him to wash the feet if all the Twelve were standing.

Jesus' footwashing, which was intended both as a lesson and as an example of humility and service, apparently was connected with the Disciples' dispute over which of them would be the greatest in the Lord's Kingdom. This would mean that Christ's symbolic act would have followed soon after that argument, which resulted in His teaching on what constituted rule and greatness in the Church.

Imagine, if you can, the Apostles' surprise when Jesus, Whom they now knew was the Son of God, rose up and removed His outer garments, cinched a towel around His waist, and walked to the end of the table where the basin and water for the purification stood. Chrysostom and others give great emphasis to the words in verse 6 of this passage, contorting it to mean that Jesus only approached Peter after having washed the feet of all the other disciples. Actually, the seating arrangement and ritual placement of the basin and water strongly suggest that Christ first intended to wash the feet of Peter. That worthy, as we know, strenuously objected to having his feet washed by the Master.

Peter did not understand how Jesus had changed the meaning of the first handwashing, which originally was intended as an act of externalism and self-righteousness by which the Host could be distinguished from all others. Instead, Christ the Host and Head of the company distinguished Himself from the others by the humblest service of love, whereby He manifested the humility which characterizes greatness in the Kingdom and demonstrated that service was the rule.

Peter did not understand this, seeing only the reversal of their relative positions. Jesus, wishing to lead his impetuosity to an absolute submission of faith and to indicate the even deeper truth he was soon to learn, told Peter he one day would understand what his Lord was doing. The Apostle would have none of it and protested vigorously. Of course Peter's refusal must have in part been due to his personal love for Jesus, but at least some of it likely was caused by an unwillingness to submit to the humiliation of the cross. Jesus at that point told the Apostle that, if He could not wash his feet, then Peter would have no part with Him. Getting his feet washed really would not have given Peter part in Christ, but the refusal to submit to it would have deprived him of it. To share in this symbolic washing was a way to have a part in Christ's service of love -- to enter into it and to share it.

When Peter submitted to the washing, so did all the others. Who would now dare resist Him? Jesus washed the feet of all present -- even those of Judas, who would betray Him. Was this just a meaningless ceremony of humiliation on the part of Christ? Of course not. The action was symbolic and meant that the disciples who, with the exception of one, already were bathed and made clean in the heart and spirit required only this -- to wash their feet in spiritual consecration to the service of love which Christ had shown in the symbolic act. Christ's words to Peter had no reference to the forgiveness of our daily sins, which would have been utterly out of context, but to the daily consecration of our lives to the service of love, as opposed to self-seeking.

Jesus even washed the feet of Judas, whom He knew would betray Him. To what purpose? Could it have been yet another attempt to reach Judas, whom He already had warned, as if by any means he might be saved? Scripture tells us God wishes that all men might be saved, yet we know that many will not be. Here, we see the Son of God trying in vain to reach into the heart of the man He knew would deliver Him up to agony and a terrible death. Can there be greater love?

Going Christ One Better

So. What does all this have to do with the Roman Pope? Well, it affords us another opportunity to see how the Catholic church has taken it upon itself to go God one better, as it were. An opportunity to raise itself above even our Savior, or at least to attempt to do so.

Christ was content to wash the feet of His disciples in order to teach them and us the lessons of humility and service which should characterize the faith walk of every believer. In so doing, He assumed the role of the least person in the household and performed the duties normally assigned to the lowliest slave or servant. The impact of His lesson was immediately driven home to His disciples. The Roman Church has corrupted even so perfect a lesson as this, in its effort to be even holier than Christ Himself.

In the newspaper published on Good Friday, I saw a large photograph of Pope John Paul II ostentatiously kissing someone's bare foot. The accompanying article described how the Pope symbolically washed the feet of twelve priests in a Fourth Century Roman basilica after delivering a homily urging the faithful to have "an attitude of humble openness toward the neediest."

The Pope bent over and dribbled water on one foot left bare by each of 12 priests seated on a platform. John Paul then dried the feet with a few dabs of a white cloth and then ostentatiously kissed each foot. Similar ceremonies were performed throughout Jerusalem and elsewhere, but I only saw a picture of the Pope kissing a foot.

What is wrong with the Pope kissing someone's foot? Perhaps nothing, or perhaps it serves as yet another illustration of the RCC's penchant for going beyond Scripture. Jesus Christ was content to humble Himself by assuming the role of a slave or lowly household servant and washing the feet of the guests at the Passover supper He hosted. To do so, He removed his outer garment and, towel girded about His loins, set to the demeaning task. John Paul, in a hollow imitation of our Savior's act, poured out water on but a single foot belonging to each of 12 priests and then lightly dabbed at the damp with a cloth. In so doing, was the Pontif humbled? Did he set aside his costly raiment in order to truly humble himself before the selected priests? Not on your life. The picture shows him wearing the fine robes one is accustomed to seeing on the back of "Christ's Vicar."

It is not enough that the Bishop of Rome did a wane imitation of the Lord's symbolic act, he then went that extra step which seems so dear to Rome. He bent down and kissed the feet of his priests. Jesus Christ, God made Man, was content to wash the feet of His disciples, but the Pope apparently felt a need to top that act of supreme humility by kissing the feet he had but dampened. Is that arrogance?

Can one take pride in being humble? Can the Pope, by kissing feet, show himself to be more humble than was Christ in that historic moment? Is it important to do Christ one better? Is there a scriptural precedent for kissing feet or is this something Rome thought God forgot to mention?

Think on it.

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