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THE THIRD CHAPTER. Of the washing of the disciples' feet. When the time of grace and mercy was at hand, in which He had decreed from everlasting to accomplish our salvation, and to redeem us, not with corruptible gold and silver, but with His own precious Blood, out of true love, Christ Jesus, as a most bountiful Master of the household, desired to eat supper with His disciples before He departed from them by a cruel death, and as a sign of the mighty love with which He loved them. And in this supper it was His will to establish His testament, declaring openly, that even to the end He had loved them as His true children, and had pressed them to His fatherly heart from everlasting. For, when the supper was over, and He had pointed out to His disciples that His death and Passion was very near at hand, and had beheld how grievously they were afflicted thereat, at the thought, namely, that they were to be torn asunder from so faithful a Father and loving a Teacher--out of His exceeding great compassion He gently comforted them, and said: "My little children, be not sad, nor let your heart be troubled, I will not leave you orphans. It is expedient for you that I go away. I shall go away, therefore, but I will come again to you." But when He saw that they had lost all heart, and were sore stricken, some of them, indeed, with tears running down their cheeks, and others heaving deep sighs from their inmost heart, and others, again, showing by their pale and changing countenances the anguish of their spirit, all the bowels of His compassion were moved, for He is full of mercy, and, at the same time, He spake unto them words of comfort, and said: "My little children, fear not, neither be ye troubled. Lo, I am with you, even unto the end of the world." See, with what burning love He embraced them. Again, when the Paschal Lamb was made ready in the place where He had eaten, He entered the upper-chamber, and His disciples followed Him. Come, then, and let us also follow Him, for our tender-hearted Lord will not suffer anyone to go out of that chamber hungering. When, therefore, the Paschal Lamb had been eaten, according to the rites and law of the Jews, He summed up, as it were, in one, but, at the same time, a twofold virtue, all the virtues which He had practised His whole life long in divers and marvellous ways, that they who cannot follow the works and virtues of Christ, may, with all earnestness, endeavour to acquire, at least, these two, which He taught us so carefully at the end of His life. For, indeed, without these virtues no man can obtain salvation, or the bliss of heaven. He rose, therefore, from the table, and, girt about with a linen cloth, began very diligently to wash His disciples' feet. Now, the reason why He performed this grand work of striking humility at the end of His life was this:--namely, that He might deeply impress upon His dear disciples, and upon all of us, the virtue of profound humility. For, without this, we cannot persevere in the other virtues, nor make progress, nor please God, nor obtain His grace, since, according to the Scripture, God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace unto the humble. And as pride is the beginning and source of all evil, so humility is the groundwork of all virtues. This blessed virtue uniteth us with God: and by humility we, as it were, force God to sink down into our souls. For no man can use force over the exceeding mighty power of God, save by deep self-contempt, and utter self-deprivation. And as water ever seeketh the lower places, so doth God, by His grace, flow down with greater readiness into a lowly heart. By humility the Blessed Virgin, our Lady, overcame Him Who is unconquerable, reconciled Him Who had been offended, gave pleasure to the King most High, and drew Him down to rest in her pure body, as she herself confesseth: "For He hath regarded the lowliness of His hand-maiden." By pride we have been cast out of Paradise, by humility we are raised again to glory. But if pride was so damnable in the angels, that justice required that they should be driven out of the everlasting heaven, although, by reason of their great glory and brightness, they had many more reasons for exalting themselves than man; how doth the latter dare to lift himself up, as if he himself were somewhat, when, of a truth, both his substance, and state, and nature, and dwelling-place, and all belonging to him, drag him down, and render him vile? For, if he will only observe what he hath been, what he is, what he undergoeth, where he dwelleth, and what he will be, he will, of a surety, perceive how his one condition lowereth and humbleth him, and casteth reproach upon the depth of his lowness in these words: "Why art thou proud, O dust and ashes?" But, although our Lord Jesus taught us this virtue His whole life long, both by word and deed, yet, when He was now nigh unto death, He desired more deeply to impress it both upon His disciples and all of us, and more expressly to teach it us by His own lowly actions, so that it might never be blotted out of our hearts. And, of a truth, could our sweet Lord have shown us deeper humility than by washing His own creatures' feet? He bowed Himself down to the earth, and was made the servant of all His disciples. Who, I ask, without compunction and devotion, can behold the King of glory, at Whose marvellous power the angelic spirits are lost in wonder and trembling adoration,--girt round the loins with a linen cloth, and washing so carefully the dust-covered feet of His own servants? His disciples sat, and He, the Power of God Almighty, threw Himself down upon the ground. He, the Lord of lords, knelt down at the feet of His own disciples, although at His Name every knee is bent. Oh! how humbly, how devoutly, how lovingly He passed from one to the other, and, placing His sacred knees upon the ground, touched the dirt of their feet with those fair, clean hands of His,--nay, so carefully washed them, and dried them, and kissed them. Nor was it only the feet of His friends, but even of him who betrayed Him, that He desired to wash and kiss, since He knew that he had been sold by the latter for thirty pieces of silver; yet, not less kindness did He show to him than to the others, this truly tender-hearted Jesus. Now this great work of humility He wrought for our instruction. Hear Him speaking Himself to His disciples: "Know ye what I have done to you. If I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, so ought you also to wash one another's feet. For, behold, I have given you an example, that as I have done, so you should do also, that you, in like manner, may perform one to the other the works of mutual love, and mutually help one another, and this, too, not only to your friends, but to your enemies." Wherefore, whosoever refuseth to follow the profound humility of the Son of God on earth, will never be exalted with Him at the right hand of His Father in heaven. For, nothing doth God love so much, as a pure, and lowly, and peaceful heart, as He saith Himself: "On whom shall My Spirit rest, save on him who is of a lowly and peaceful heart, and who trembleth at My words?"
[From 'Meditations on the Life and Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ.' Tauler, John (c. 1300-1361) Public Domain]