It is true that the washing of the feet is very significant in the moments that lead to the Passion and Death of Christ, for it foreshadows what it truly means for Jesus to hang and die on the Cross, for the sake of humankind. And perhaps one can see this by concentrating on three important passages that are worth reflecting on for the next three days.
“What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.”
To put it simply, what Jesus wants his apostles to do is to receive his self-giving, manifested and symbolized by washing the feet, which is the part of the body that gets soiled and dirty the most (especially for a Jew who walks on the dusty roads filled with all kinds of garbage). Jesus appeals and calls to our will to receive what has been given to us, and what he says here is that the point of what He does is not to merely understand what it is. Rather, understanding can only happen once one receives Jesus' own self.
But what Jesus gives is not something that is for one's own benefit. In receiving Jesus, one also receives the difficulty of loving and giving oneself, especially in the times when it is most difficult to love and give ourselves. There will be points in one's own life that things seem to not make sense at all, and one leads to search what is clear and certain for one, retreating within the confines of sufficient reasons. What Jesus points out here is that in these moments, what must be done is to receive him, which means giving one's own self in the same way that Jesus gave His. Only then, in hindsight, can one truly understand. In other words, what is necessary for one to understand is not the intellect, but the will. And for the Holy Week, Pascal says it truly: to believe is to not multiply proofs of God's existence (or perhaps to search merely for reasons that comfort us) but to diminish our passions, to lead ourselves to love God and others.
“Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.”
The washing of the feet is also a symbol of the relationship of love that exists between Jesus and His disciples. Jesus took the initiative to wash the feet of his apostles, and therefore his decision to love. When one accepts Jesus' love, then one is bound and committed to Jesus, sharing in His identity and mission.
And perhaps this is a call that reverberates most strongly in the present. In the present times, we live a life wherein the individual is highly praised, and self-actualization becomes an absolute must (expressed in the use of social media and the proliferation of a "culture of "celebritizing" ourselves). And at times, it leads to a "king-of-the-hill" mentality which leads one to forsake the Other in order to glorify ourselves. In fact, it reaches to a point wherein we become afraid of committing ourselves to others and forming genuine relationships with them because we fear that we sacrifice our precious individuality in doing so. In the washing of the feet, Jesus binds Himself to us, and we are called to bind ourselves to Him by binding ourselves as well with the people whom He loves.
“Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed, for he is clean all over; so you are clean, but not all.”
I have chosen this over the concluding lines of the Gospel because it is one that doesn't immediately make sense. However, I think what Jesus seems to say at this point is that what He does is not a mere cleansing ritual, but a sharing in the mission of "cleaning" every mess brought about by sin, done by loving in the same way that He does. And when he says that we are clean, but not all, he speaks of the challenge to love even when one among our brothers and sisters cannot and would not.
In the end, what the washing tells us is to love as the master has loved, and as Jesus says, "as I have done for you, you should also do."
The only way that one can receive a gift is to do it as it is, which means re-giving it in the light of its givenness.