There are many aspects to tonight’s Gospel that are complex. It is related to the Sacrament of Baptism, the Eucharist and the Priesthood. However, it is not possible for me to enter into every of these aspects. I want to focus on the meaning of service that is connected to the washing of the feet; the Christ-like service that Jesus had shown to His disciples.
At the Last Supper scene, Jesus was very aware that He was going to be betrayed by one of His close disciple. The hurt from betrayal is more painful from someone you know and love than from your enemy who will condemn you. Jesus also knew that His disciples would flee in fear when He is arrested. He also knew that Peter whom He had appointed as head of the apostles would also deny Him.
Just before the Last Supper, we find in Luke’s gospel, that the disciples were still arguing amongst themselves ‘Who is the greatest amongst us?’ Unlike Jesus, most of us would probably be very angry, depressed and devastated by this situation. But Jesus does not give up. He continues to have hope in His disciples and so He gets up, wraps a towel around His waist and begins to wash the feet of His disciples. This washing is a service and a ritual that only a slave and servant would do. But, Jesus as the Master, the Son of God, the Messiah, stoops Himself so low to serve and wash the feet of His disciples; the humble service of the Son of God!
The service that Jesus has shown us is more than faithfully doing a humble service . If we want to understand the meaning of the washing of the feet, we must somehow connect the washing to the person of Jesus . It is in connecting the service to Jesus that we begin to value service as a Gospel value; a value that Jesus wants us to imbibe, if we believe in Him .
So when Jesus washes the feet of His disciples, He wants to remind each of us that He too is daily serving and attending to our needs in every way . In Ignatian Spirituality, St Ignatius would say that God is not only present in our life; He is also labouring for us at every moment of our lives . God is not just participating and involved in our lives actively; He is labouring for us . He is providing Himself for our needs totally in every way and this is precisely the meaning of the Eucharist .
During the celebration of a Eucharist, Jesus offers Himself totally, selflessly, as a sacrifice to the Father for us . To live the Eucharist of Jesus, we must consciously unite the way we live our lives and serve others daily to Christ, who is being offered to the Father .
One of the problems with many of us is that we are not very aware of this meaning of service . Many of us are not very aware of how much God is constantly labouring at every moments of our lives . And what happens if this continues over time? We subconsciously begin to tell ourselves that we can do without God . Meanwhile, we continue to imbibe the negative secular values of our society and allow them to influence us more and more . And when this continues even further, we will be more convinced that we can do without God .
When that happens, we push God to the background of our lives . He becomes an optional extra . He becomes a compartment in our lives, and worse still, God becomes irrelevant to us . We need to be more aware of how intensely God is involved in our lives daily and therefore we need to challenge ourselves to allow God into our lives more fully . When we clearly allow God into our lives, we do not simply make God sit at the side of our lives where He is at the beck and call of our needs and when we are in a crisis .
To allow God into our lives means that we must put Him at the centre of our lives . And this in turn means that God must be the meaning and motive of everything that we do and how we live our life . God must be the purpose, our goal and our dreams in life . If God is not part of all these, then we need to reflect more and become more aware of how we may be pushing Him aside in our lives .
And so if we do not allow God to be more involved in our lives and if we are not consciously and closely connected to Him and if we do not see how He is inseparably linked to the way we live, then what will happen? There is the danger of being influenced by secular values that make us self-centered and self-serving instead of being Christ-centered and selfless .
What happens next? Our emotions will become dominant in our lives and they will take control and influence our attitudes and behaviour in life . We will begin to distort the meaning of truth and service that Christ has shown us .
We would probably begin to want to hold on to positions; we would want to be in control and to be at the center of attention, in our service . We would want to assert that this and that are my tuft, so, do not interfere . We would become defensive and cut people’s ideas off and become blind to their needs . We would become over-sensitive to simple remarks and innocent comments . We would compete for self-glory, assert our views and cause division and dissention at meetings and in groups . We would personalise everything that people say and take offence, at the expense of the greater good at the service of others . We would also likely become petty about money and would also probably be engaged in bad-mouthing and gossiping and the like . This list can go on . It can happen to you, it can happen to me .
We are challenged to be more fully aware of how the Lord wants us to serve in the way that He has shown us . We are all called to serve, be active and live our faith in a very positive way . We are called to go beyond the needs of our family and contribute to the needs of people, the Church and others, especially the needy .
Christ is not given to us alone. We are meant to share Christ with others and make Him known through our service, our active witness of who He is through our ways of living.
And so tonight, in the washing of the feet, Christ has in a very profound way shown us what service is like, what our faith is meant to be. We are called to be humble, to be totally selfless, and to know that God is constantly labouring for us at every moment of our lives.
We do admit that to follow Christ really is often never easy . It cannot be achieved overnight . And so, this is precisely why we need to challenge ourselves to interiorise the Gospel Values of Christ and make the meaning of our service more like Christ .
To conclude, I would like to say that our Parish is God’s gift to us .What our parish becomes is our gift to God .What type of gift do we want to give to God? The God who suffered so much for us and who has shown us His mercy unconditionally?
The bottom line is, if we want to build our parish, we need to adopt and interiorise the Gospel Values of Christ’s humble service more fully and more wholeheartedly . If we don’t, we are heading for turbulent times and gloomy days . But, if we do try with God’s graces to serve more selflessly like Christ and be more a Christ-like community, then the future will be filled with light and hope for our parish, for our community, for your home, for you, for me, for everyone that you will come in contact with .
Each of us must make our own decision. It has to be a personal decision of whether we truly want to imbibe the Christ-like values in our daily living or to allow the negative secular values to influence in our lives
Fr Philip Heng, S.J.