Holy Thursday: Gospel – John 13:1-15

Be Humble and Selfless like Jesus"

Preached by Fr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of St Ignatius – Singapore
on 5th April 2012

The very powerful symbolic ritual that Jesus used at the Last Supper is the “Washing of the feet.”  We heard proclaimed how Jesus while at Supper, He knew that His hour had come; He knew that the cruel Crucifixion was at hand; He knew that He had to show His disciple what “perfect love” means.

So, “He got up from table, removed His outer garment and, taking a towel, wrapped it round His waist; He then poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet and wipe them with the towel He was wearing”

What is the significance of what Jesus did?  The Gospel tells us that it is an “act of perfect love” that Jesus wanted to show His disciples before He died.  So, Jesus asked them, “You call me Master and Lord, and rightly so I am.  If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should wash each other’s feet.  I have given you an example so that you may follow . . . Do you understand what I have done to you?”

A few days ago, I received an email about the story of Ting Tsu-chi, a 62 year old Taiwanese man, who worked in the Tainan Bureau of Investigation five years ago.  When Ting was offered promotion, he not only turned it down, but also applied for early retirement; this was so that he could take care of both his parents.  This is a photo of Ting bringing his frail mother, (wrapped in a cotton shoulder sling), to the Chi Mei Hospital on March 5th this year.  Ting cared and stayed beside his mother with great devotion and filial love at all times; ten days later she died.


When his friends asked about his mother, he simply said, “my mother had a stroke and can’t move well; last month she broke her leg and because she is fragile and thin, sitting on a wheelchair would not be suitable for her, as her broken leg could be hurt if it bumped into anything.  So, I decided to use a wrapping cloth to carry my mother.  I think this is the best option to take her to the hospital.

When reporters asked Ting’s former colleagues to ask him for an interview, he simply said, “These are my personal affairs, I would rather not.  Also, I don’t think I am doing anything special; everyone is doing the same.” One newspaper quoted Ting as saying, “When I was small, you carried me; when you grow old, I carry you . . .”  Ting’s wife confessed, “My husband sounded like he was (always) in tears whenever he discussed his mother’s illness over the phone . . . I married the right man.”

My brothers and sisters in Christ, we can see that Ting has a heart of gold and how we wish our own children would love us as Ting loved his mother.  Even as such hopes are valid, another valid question which you and I could ask ourselves is, “Am I willing to do what Ting did for his mother, for my own mother?”  If I do, then my reasons would most probably be, “I love my mother more than my other needs of my life.  And, the sacrifices that I make for my mother are also nothing really so special as I assume everyone who truly loves their mothers would naturally be willing to do what I am doing!”

In today’s Gospel scene of the Last Supper, the humble love that Jesus showed to His disciples is infinitely greater than the love that Ting showed to his mother or indeed infinitely greater than all the love we can ever show to one another.  We have God Himself kneeling and performing the lowliest task of a slave; the humblest of all tasks; showing us how we too ought to humble ourselves to serve each other.


The bottom line then of what the washing of the feet at the Last Supper is about is what in Greek is called the kenosis; the total self-emptying of our Lord for the sake and salvation of all of us and all peoples in the world.  And this “total self-emptying” is about how humble or how “low” are we willing to stoop for the sake and good of someone or people we want to love and serve.  For Jesus, He is willing to serve as a servant of all servants; a slave to His disciples and even to be condemned as a criminal and to die the cruellest death on the Cross, just for our sake and salvation.

I like us to pause for a few moments and look into our hearts and try to sense what we are feeling within us (at the moment) as we hear Jesus challenging you and me to be humble and selfless in our service of one another, as He has shown us . . . what do we find in our hearts? . . . Do we find deep desires welling up to be more humble, self-effacing and selfless like Jesus or would we sense resistances and rationalisation and even rejection of Jesus invitation to us, to “wash one another’s feet”?


During the Stations of the Cross video reflection that we showed in our Church last Friday, there was a very graphic scene of someone digging into the open wound of a leper’s feet with some cotton wool to clean it.  The scene then showed how this person who was cleaning the wound of a leper was herself a leper when the camera showed the stumps of her hands.  Then the camera panned on to a sign that was hanging on the wall that says, “Disability is not inability! . . . Love is unconditional!”

When Jesus, the Son of God tonight shows us that “perfect love” is found in “total self-emptying humility”, He was in fact, pointing to an infinitely greater and humbler sacrifice that is to come; His Cross, His Crucifixion and His death.


And so, as Jesus offers Himself to His apostles at the Last Supper and said to them and to us, “Take this Bread and eat of it, for this is My Body which will be given up for you,” Jesus was truly offering Himself to be brutally tortured and ripped apart by His enemies, in total submission, so that in His resurrection, all will be saved.  And when Jesus offers His Blood to His apostles and for us to drink, He was willing to shed every drop of Blood that He has to cleanse us our sins.

In the Last Supper Meal Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist that for all times, we are able to receive the gift of His Body and Blood to strengthen us in our life’s journey as we confront the daily challenges of our faith to be and become the disciple of Christ that is truly humble and selfless so that the Eucharist that we participate in and consume of will become truly a living reality in our daily life for the sake and salvation of all peoples.

To conclude, I would like us to reflect on this prayer,

Dear Lord, I find it hard to give
          As You have told me to
To make the smallest sacrifice
          Sometimes is hard to do
So grant me, Lord, the gift to give
          And through my self-denial,
Lord Jesus, in my love for You,
          I’ll walk the Extra Mile.

Lord, give my eyes the gift to see
          The other person’s need
And take from me my selfishness,
          Self-centeredness and greed,
And make my ears attentive
          To the hard cry of despair.

Lord, grant that I will go without,
          While other have my share.
My hands, dear Lord, are idle
          And I offer them to You.
That You may use them as You will,
          There’s so much they can do.

And guide my feet that I will walk
          With those who walk alone.
And may my footprints on this earth
          Lead to Your Heavenly Throne.

Oh Lord, if I can live this way
          My life will be worthwhile,
For then I’d know that in Your name
          I walk the Extra Mile.
For I remember long ago that day on Calvary,
          Those many many extra miles, dear Lord,
You walked for me. Amen.
(Bernard Boon)

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.


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