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Essential Guide to Holy Thursday: Why does Peter say “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”

Why does Peter tell Jesus to wash his hands and head, as well as his feet? Peter says a lot of odd things in the Gospel, but why might this be the oddest of all?

You've been dipping your fingers in them your whole life. But where do holy water fonts come from?

The Apostles are the first bishops, right? So when were the Apostles ordained?

Ever asked any of these questions? All are answered below!

Peter and the Washing of the Feet

Always, always pay attention to the verses that don't make sense. One of these happens when Jesus is washing the Apostles' feet. Peter says a lot of seemingly strange things in the Gospel, but this one's special. Here's how it goes in the Gospel of John, chapter 13:

Peter: “Lord, do you wash my feet?” (v.6)
Jesus:  “What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand.” (v.7)
Peter: “You shall never wash my feet.” (v.8)
Jesus: “If I do not wash you, you have no inheritance in me.”
Peter: “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” (v.9)

What does Jesus mean "you have no inheritance in me"? Peter isn't about to get baptized. That's already happened. So why would Peter lose his "inheritance"?

So what is Jesus' inheritance?

And, how does this explain Peter's enigmatic response to Jesus: wash also my hands and my head"?

Jesus' Farewell Discourse

This all takes place during the Last Supper. Equally as important, it takes place during Jesus' Farewell Discourse.

The Farewell Discourse is Jesus' longest continuous teaching, except for the Sermon on the Mount.[1] It also includes Jesus' longest prayer of all the Gospels, the Farewell Prayer or the High Priestly Prayer.

But what is a Farewell Discourse?

To understand what's going on, we need to understand what a Farewell Discourse is.

What is a Farewell Discourse?

Jesus' Farewell Discourse was not the first Farewell Discourse. Not by a long shot.

A Farewell Discourse was like the Last Will & Testament for the leader of the Hebrew people. Certain elements must be included in a Will for it to be considered valid. Similarly, a Farewell Discourse was expected to contain certain elements.

Unlike a Will, however, the Farewell Discourse formed part of a covenant, not a contract. For more on the difference between a covenant, click here.[2]

What is the Context for Jesus' Farewell Discourse?

The Patriarchs in the Old Testament also gave Farewell Discourses. What insight does this give
us into Jesus' Farewell Discourse?

The Farewell Discourse of Jacob/Israel

In Genesis 48-49, Jacob blesses his sons, instructs them preparing for a smooth succession, prophesies over their futures, and describes his death and burial.

Pay close attention to these individual parts of Jacob's Farewell Discourse ...

Jacob's/Israel's Blessings

The discourse begins with a very touching scene of Jacob's reunion with Joseph and his two sons. Joseph, as you remember, had been living in Egypt since his being sold into slavery there. Jacob/Israel begins by blessing the two sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh.

When Israel saw Joseph’s sons, he said, “Who are these?” Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons, whom God has given me here.” And he said, “Bring them to me, I pray you, that I may bless them.” Now the eyes of Israel were dim with age, so that he could not see. So Joseph brought them near him; and he kissed them and embraced them. And Israel said to Joseph, “I had not thought to see your face; and lo, God has let me see your children also.” Then Joseph removed them from his knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth.
[Genesis 48:8-12]

That has to bring a tear to your eye!

Sons helping their father from his death bed to bow his face to the earth. The father's eyes "dim with age" seeing his grandchildren for the first time and reuniting with his favorite son. Including Ephraim, there will ultimately be a lot of context, as well, for Jesus' Parable of the Prodigal Son. 

There's also an interesting moment that happens right after this that might remind us of Peter.

Something strange happens during this scene ...

And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it upon the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand upon the head of Manasseh, crossing his hands, for Manasseh was the first-born. And he blessed Joseph, and said, "... bless the lads ... and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth."

When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand upon the head of Ephraim, it displeased him; and he took his father’s hand, to remove it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. And Joseph said to his father, “Not so, my father; for this one is the first-born; put your right hand upon his head.” But his father refused, and said, “I know, my son, I know; he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great; nevertheless his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations.”
[Genesis 48:14-19]

Joseph is "displeased" (Gen 48:17) at watching Jacob/Israel bless his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. Why would Joseph react this way?

Because of this, Joseph's two sons will each be a tribe of Israel. Remember, there's no tribe of Joseph. Instead, Joseph is doubly honored. Joseph is, in effect, receiving a double portion of his inheritance. So why would Joseph be displeased?

Joseph believes there is a certain order to things, based on the order of his sons' births. But Jacob/Israel, though his eyes are "dimmed with age", knows better.

Jacob/Israel blesses Joseph's children instead with a cross. Did you notice that? Jacob/Israel "crossing his hands" blessed the sons.

The Cross also reveals a new order of blessing and inheritance. What is that new order? That the last shall be first. The first must even bow down, as Jacob/Israel does, to the feet of the Twelve. And what will be the result of this? A multitude which will fill the earth.

But Joseph tries to stop this! Who does that remind you of?

Peter says “Lord, do you wash my feet? ... You shall never wash my feet.” He says this because, as Jesus says, he does not "understand" Jesus' purpose. But he soon will ...

Jacob's/Israel's Prophecies and Instructions for Succession

Then Jacob/Israel called his sons and said, "Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in days to come. Assemble and listen, O sons of Jacob, listen to Israel your father."[Genesis 49:1-2]

The heads of the 12 tribes are assembled around their father, Jacob/Israel. He then prophesies over each of his sons, starting with the eldest, Reuben, then Simeon and Levi. Next comes Judah.

Jacob/Israel appoints Judah to lead his sons - the people of "Israel" - after his death. The prophecy concerning Judah is rich with meaning.

Judah is a lion’s whelp;
    from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He stooped down, he couched as a lion,
    and as a lioness; who dares rouse him up?
[Genesis 49:9]

How does Jacob address Judah? This is the Prophesy of the Lion of Judah, which you can read more about here.

Judah is being described as a lion, but something more is going on. The above verse may seem a little mysterious, but in his next words, Jacob makes it clear. Jacob is prophesying the coming Messiah, connecting his last words to the Last Supper:

The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until Shiloh comes to whom it belongs;
    and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
Binding his foal to the vine
    and his ass’s colt to the choice vine,
he washes his garments in wine
    and his vesture in the blood of grapes;
his eyes shall be red with wine,
    and his teeth white with milk.
[Genesis 49:10-12]

Jacob makes in clear ... sort of. Who or what is "Shiloh"? Shiloh is the Hebrew word for "He Whose It Is". This is commonly understood as a name for the Messiah.

"The scepter" and "the ruler's staff" are all marks of royal authority and kingship, which are to be wielded by the Messiah and the Kings of Israel ... all of which are descended from Judah, namely Kings Saul, David, and Solomon.

Isn't it interesting, that the Messiah is associated with vines and wine? Not just any wine, but wine which is blood! i.e. the blood of grapes. How Eucharistic! Isn't it amazing how this points directly to the Last Supper?

You can also read more about "the choice wine" here:

Jacob's/Israel's on His Death and Burial

Jacob's death is imminent. We see at Genesis 49:31 Jacob/Israel describing where he is to be buried: "There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife. There they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah ..."

The Farewell Discourses of All the Patriarchs

The Farewell Discourse becomes a tradition of the people of Israel. Each of the great patriarchs will give a Farewell Discourse leading ultimately to Jesus and the Last Supper.

The Farewell Discourse of Moses

[Deuteronomy 31-33] Again, Moses gathers the princes of the Twelve Tribes, blesses them,
gives them instructions to provide for a smooth succession of power, gives them predictions
concerning their future. Moses appoints Joshua to lead them after his death.

The Farewell Discourse of Joshua

[Joshua 24] Again, Joshua gathers the princes of the Twelve Tribes, blesses them, gives them
instructions to provide for a smooth succession of power, gives them predictions concerning
their future. Joshua prepares for the Judges to lead Israel after his death.

And remember ... What is Jesus' name in Hebrew? Joshua!

The Farewell Discourse of Samuel

[1 Samuel 12] Samuel, the last of the Judges, gathers the princes of the Twelve Tribes, blesses
them, gives them instructions to provide for a smooth succession of power, gives them
predictions concerning their future. Samuel anoints the first of the Kings, Saul, to lead Israel
after his death.

Common Elements of the Farewell Discourses

Each Farewell Discourse is a Renewal of the Covenant.

So what do we see happening at every Farewell Discourse? What are the common elements?

1. The Twelve, representatives of the 12 tribes of Israel, are gathered together by the leader of God's people
2. The Blessing
3. The Law and Governance: the Patriarch appoints his successor
4. The Prophesy
5. The (impending) Death of the Covenant Father

What does Jesus do during His Farewell Discourse?

Jesus begins His Farewell Discourse, not with words, but like Judah/Israel with an action ...

Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. ... Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel. Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded.

He came to Simon Peter; and Peter said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no inheritance in me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but he is clean all over; and you are clean, but not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “You are not all clean.”
[John 13:1-11]

Mysterious: Why does Peter respond, "not only my feet but my hands and my head as well"?

You may have grown accustomed to Peter's response, but it doesn't really make sense unless you understand the context. Is this just Peter's typical over-exuberance or something much more? When Scripture "zigs" when you think it should "zag," pay close attention!

Not only that, Jesus' response is also mysterious: “If I do not wash you, you have no inheritance in me.”

And what about "You are not all clean" and Judas? [3]

It's all mysterious ... unless you know the elements of the Farewell Discourse. The dying Patriarch appoints his successors and apportions their inheritance.

Here's the KEY: Jesus is trying to give the Twelve their inheritance by washing their feet. 

But how can you inherit by having your feet washed? That doesn't make sense. Does it?

Inheritance by Washing Feet?

Remember how Jesus described his body in John 2?

The Jews then said to him, “What SIGN have you to show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he spoke of the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.

If Jesus' body is the New Temple, what were the characteristics of the Original Temple, i.e. the Tabernacle of Moses?

Below you will see a diagram of the Tabernacle of Moses. This is what Moses created, according to God's instructions, to represent what Moses had seen in Heaven ... at the Heavenly Banquet.

This is what Jesus, too, is recreating at His Banquet, the Passover Banquet, the Banquet of the Lamb of God, THE LAST SUPPER!

Do you see the "Bronze Laver" in front of the Tent?

Every detail of the Tabernacle of Moses is significant ... like the Ark of the Covenant! We'll focus for now on just that one detail, the Bronze Laver.

First off, "laver" means "to wash". Can you guess where this is going?

Before entering the Holy Place inside the tent, the priests were required to "laver" (wash) themselves with this basin of water. Why? Because the priests were usually pretty messy after ritually slaughtering animals and roasting them at the "Brazen Altar."

So the priests washed their hands ... what does that have to do with washing feet?

No, they washed not just their hands, but their head and feet as well. Does that sound familiar?

Again, what does Peter say when Jesus tries to wash his feet? See below ...

Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my
head!” (John 13:8-9)

Why does Peter respond like this? Because Peter suddenly realizes what Jesus is doing!

Jesus is anointing the Twelve as his priests! Priestly ordination. This is the inheritance of the Twelve![4][5][6][7][8][9]

The priests of the Old Testament would wash "not just their feet, but their hands and feet as well" before approaching the Holy of Holies. Peter realizes that he is now in the Presence of God, the Holy of Holies incarnated. The Temple is Jesus' body!

Not only was this how priests prepared to enter the tent of the Tabernacle. Old Testament priests were also anointed by the pouring of oil and water on their heads from a horn, see picture below:

Here again is the anointing of Aaron, the High Priest of Israel, at Exodus 40:12-15:

Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the door of the tent of meeting, and shall wash them with water, and put upon Aaron the holy garments, and you shall anoint him and consecrate him, that he may serve me as priest. You shall bring his sons also and put coats on them, and anoint them, as you anointed their father, that they may serve me as priests: and their anointing shall admit them to a perpetual priesthood throughout their generations.

How long is that priesthood supposed to last? Is it temporary? No, it's perpetual. So it ends during the time of Christ? No, Jesus perpetuates the priesthood in His Church, a kingdom of priests. 

Summary: Why does Peter say Wash also "My Hands and My Head"?

To summarize, Jesus said, "If I do not wash you, you have no inheritance in me". What's this "inheritance" that Jesus is talking about? [5] What are the characteristics of a Farewell Discourse? In his Farewell Discourse, the patriarch will provide for his succession and inheritance.

Jesus' successors will be His priests and His inheritance will be himself, the Eucharist, which Jesus' priests will give to the world. If Jesus does not wash Peter, Peter will not be ordained a priest of the New Covenant and will not inherit his "inheritance" in Jesus.

Make sense? Please comment below if you need more help making any of these connections. As you can imagine, so much more could be said about this. So many more connections!

Ask yourself about the other elements of the Farewell Discourse ... who and when does Jesus name his successor or successors??  Who is Jesus' successors? The Twelve. Who is their leader? Peter!

It's goes on and on ... and on. The Gospel of John is a bottomless wealth of connections. Have fun searching the depths this Holy Thursday!

Where do Holy Water Fonts come from?

Quick Sidenote: Does this "laver" look familiar to you somehow?

Have you ever passed a bowl of water as you were entering a church? Like the ... holy water font?? We still "laver" ourselves with holy water before entering the Holy Place!


[1] Sermon on the Mount and the Farewell Discourse are both three chapters long: Matthew 5-7 and John (13) 14-16, respectively.  
[2] Scott Hahn wrote his dissertation on the concept of the covenant. It was called Kinship by Covenant. He's the master on the subject. If you don't want to read his dissertation, Hahn wrote a great easy-to-read book on this called A Father Who Keeps His Promises. This was required reading for my seniors when I taught high school.
[3] It doesn't really fit in this section, but Judas' part in this is interesting. Think about it: Judas' feet were likely washed, as well. Jesus knew what Judas was about to do, and the washing of the feet was His last opportunity to teach Judas about what kind of Messiah Jesus was. Judas believed the Messiah would be a military conqueror, throwing off the rule of Rome by force. Jesus was showing the Apostles that He and they would conquer by serving, not by force. Also, think about this: if the washing of the feet was ordination, corrupt bishops were with the Church from the beginning.
[4] Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament, Second Catholic Edition RSV (San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 2010), 187:
“The foot washing may be a sign of priestly ordination as in the OT (Ex. 40:12, 30-32). Against this background, Jesus washing Peter and the disciples parallels the scene of Moses washing Aaron and his sons on the day of their consecration to the priesthood (Lev. 8:6).”
[5] Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament, Second Catholic Edition RSV (San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 2010), 187:
Part or inheritance: “The apostles receiving a “part” (Greek, meros) in Jesus (Jn 13:8) recalls how the Levites had their portion (Greek, meris) in the Lord alone (Num 18:20 and Deut 10:9 in the LXX).
[6] See also, "The Foot Washing in John 13:6-11; Transformation Ritual or Ceremony?" by Jerome H. Neyrey, S.J., Father Neyrey argues that the footwashing was actually a "status transformation ritual." Here's the link. Cautionary note: I had Father Neyrey as an instructor, and his teaching didn't always align with the Magisterium.
[7] "Holy Thursday, Footwashing, and the Institution of the Priesthood" by Dr. Leroy Huizenga. Here's the link.
[8] On the exclusion of women from Holy Thursday foot washing due to its contradiction with priestly ordination: A letter from Pope Francis to Robert Cardinal Sarah, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, January 21, 2016. Here's the link.
[9] Saint Ambrose of Milan associates the foot washing to original sin and the Protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15 since it is with “the heel” that the Messiah and His followers will crush Satan’s head:
“Because Adam was tripped up by the devil and the venom was poured out over thy feet, therefore dost thou wash thy feet that in that part where the serpent ensnared thee there may be added the more abundant aid of sanctification, so that he be not able to trip thee up hereafter.” (Saint Ambrose De Sacramentis, 3,1) 

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  1. I have read every word of Emmerich.Your writing are very beautiful n inspired imo.

    1. Thank you very much! A Blessed Easter Triduum to you!