But apart from that moral understanding of the passage, we remember that the way in which we commended to your attention the depth of this act of the Lord's was that in washing the feet of disciples who were already washed and clean, the Lord was symbolizing something: that we should know that, no matter what progress we have made in apprehending righteousness, we are not without sin because of the human feelings that occupy us on earth, and that he then washes away that sin by interceding for us when we pray the Father, who is in heaven, to "forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors" (Mt 6:12). How can we relate to this interpretation what he himself says afterwards when he explains the reason for his action: "If I, then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you"? Can we say that even a brother may cleanse a brother from the contagion of his wrongdoing? Yes, we can: we know that we were also admonished by the deep meaning of this work of the Lord's, that we should confess our faults to one another and pray for one another, just as Christ also intercedes for us (Rm 8:34). Let us listen to the Apostle James stating this precept very clearly, "Confess your faults to one another, and pray for one another (Jas 5:16). For the Lord gave an example of this, too. For if he who neither has, nor had, nor will have any sin, prays for our sins, how much more ought we to pray for one another's in turn! And if he whom we have nothing to forgive forgives us, how much more ought we who are unable to live here without sin to forgive one another! For when the Lord says, "For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you," what else does he apparently mean than what the apostle says most openly, "Forgiving one another, if anyone has a quarrel against someone, even as Christ forgave you, so you also" (Col 3:13)? Let us therefore forgive one anothers faults and pray for one another's faults, and thus in a way wash one another's feet. It is our part, by Gods grace, to perform this service of love and humility: it is Gods part to hear us and to cleanse us from all the corruption of our sins through Christ and in Christ, so that what we forgive to others, that is, loose on earth, may be loosed in heaven. (Augustine, Tr. in Ioannem, 58, 5)
Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.