Christ washes the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-38)

Christ washes the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-38)

During the Last Supper, Christ gave his disciples a practical lesson on humility and a new commandment – to love one another. These extra details are recorded only in St John’s gospel. Just before the meal, a quarrel broke out among the disciples about who was the greatest. So Christ decided to address the issue head on.

Pope St John Paul II explained: “Before instituting the Sacrament of his Body and Blood, Christ bent down and knelt, as a slave would do, to wash the disciples’ feet in the Upper Room. We watch him as he accomplishes this gesture, which in the Hebrew culture was the task of servants and the humblest persons in the household. Peter at first refuses, but the Master convinces him, and he too in the end, together with the other disciples, allows his feet to be washed.”

He added: “Immediately afterwards, however, clothed once more and seated at table, Jesus explains the meaning of his gesture: “You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought also wash one another’s feet” (John 13:12-14)”

In Scripture, the washing of feet was both an act of hospitality and of service (Genesis 18:1-4; 1 Samuel 25:41; Luke 7:44; 1 Timothy 5:10). So by telling the disciples to ‘wash one another’s feet’, Christ was referring above all to the intention of the action, which was for them to serve one another.

Each Holy Thursday (known as ‘Maundy Thursday’ in the UK), following Christ’s example there is a foot-washing ceremony during Mass. The priest, as a sign of humility, washes the feet of some of the congregation. During the same service, this gospel passage is read. That includes the saying of Christ, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.” (John 13:34)

This painting of Christ washing the feet of the disciples dates to 1962 and is by the muralist Fyffe Christie (1918-1979). Hanging within the church of Ss. Peter and Paul, Lichfield, the large painting draws the eye to the left of the sanctuary. Here Christie pictured the episode within a British urban setting, with the disciples seated on bar stools in an upper room and a city skyline beyond. Christ is seen washing St Peter’s feet, while the others disciples look on. 

The painting, with its message of service, was donated in memory of a parishioner – Joe Duddy (1921-2004) – who served faithfully as door steward at the church for many years. As such, it’s captioned with a saying of Christ from Luke 22:27: “Behold, I am amongst you as one who serves.”

See the full image:

Fyffe Christie / Christ washes the disciples’ feet / Oil painting / 1962

Where to find this work of art
St Peter and St Paul, Lichfield

Read the relevant passage
John 13:1-38

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