This evening’s celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper has two-fold highlight: the “Washing of the Feet” ritual that we heard proclaimed in the Gospel and the Institution of the Eucharist, by Jesus as we heard in the Second Reading.
After Jesus washed the feet of His apostles, He asked them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 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 what I have done to you.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, it is very clear from these actions and words of Jesus that His authority and leadership as Master and Lord is one who has come to serve and not to be served. In fact, as the washing of the feet is one of the lowliest of tasks that is done only by a servant or a slave, Jesus is reminding His disciples, and us that if we want to be His follower, then we are each called to serve not only one another, but everyone, unconditionally like Jesus.
This is because in Jesus’ Teachings and life, every person’s dignity comes not from his or her social status, but from being a child of God. As such, if we call ourselves Christians, then there should be no service that is too low for us to do, and there should be no one too poor to love and serve, and even die for. This is very true because in the context of the Last Supper, Jesus was fully aware that He will soon be persecuted, tortured, condemned and finally crucified as a criminal publicly not for any reasons, but for proclaiming the Truth that He is the Son of God who has come to save all peoples and all of us.
Many in the world are attracted to the eternal life that Jesus is promising, but find Jesus’ very radical way of living and loving others too difficult to follow. As such, we commonly hear of people saying, I believe in God, but not in Jesus Christ. I think it is enough to pray on my own and in my own way, instead of being bound by the weekly obligations of having to come to Mass on Sunday. Others on the other hand assert that the institutional Church is too strict morally; we do not allow divorce, no premarital sexual relations, no abortion and even considering it a sin, if we fail to do good to others . . .
Yes, it is true that Jesus’ demands are radical, but let us remember that if we only wish to love on our own terms, then can such conditional love cannot be deep and lasting? This type of love is prevalent in today’s secular society. Sooner or later, our “self-love” will prevail at the expense of others and in the end, our relationships and families will break up and without Christ as our model and Lord, our lives would likely end up in striving for the superficial-materialistic pursuits of life; a secular life-style that will surely cause pain, misery and destruction.
But, then (many of us may ask), how are we to live the selfless service and dying to oneself for the sake and good of others that Jesus shows us through the “washing of the feet” and the witness of His own suffering and death? This poem may give us some insight into this:
We cannot all be famous
or be listed in “Who’s Who.”
But, every person great and small
has important work to do.
For it’s not the big celebrity
in a world of fame and praise,
But, it’s doing unpretentiously
in undistinguished ways
The work that God assigned to us,
unimportant as it seems,
That makes our task outstanding
and brings reality to dreams.
So at the spot God placed you
Begin at once to do
Little things to brighten up
the lives surrounding you,
For if everybody brightened up
the spot on which they’re standing
By being more considerate
and a little less demanding,
This dark old world would very soon
eclipse the “Evening Star”
If everybody Brightened Up
The Corner Where They Are!
So don’t despise the little things
Which happen daily round us,
For some of them may chance take wings
To startle and astound us.
Trace back the greatest deed – it springs
From trifles which no poet sings
Charles Graham Halpine
In short, my sisters and brothers in Christ, “The place where God calls you and I, is the place where our own deep joy and the world’s deep hunger will meet. And, it is in such convergence of moments of our hearts that we will find the deepest peace and fulfilment in our lives even if this means carrying our crosses daily.
Our Holy Thursday Mass this evening is also celebrating Jesus’ institution of the Sacrament of the Eucharist. When a person is facing death, which Jesus did at His Last Supper, we would expect the person to be saying things that really matter to him. For Jesus, as in today’s Second Reading, He knew that He was passing over from His earthly life to His Father.
He “took some bread, and thanked God for it and broke it, and said, ‘This is My Body, which is given up for you; do this as a memorial for me. In the same way, He took the cup after supper and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My Blood. Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of Me.” Elsewhere in the Gospel of John 6:53-54, Jesus says, “I tell you most solemnly, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you will not have life in you. Anyone who does eat My Flesh and drink My Blood has eternal life.”
From these passages, the meaning of Jesus being really and physically present to us in the form of Bread and Wine is very clear. Our 2,000 years of Tradition in the Church, since the time of the Last Supper, the apostles till today affirms this Truth. St Thomas Aquinas further tells us that, in the Eucharist, Jesus is not only our Good Shepherd, but also our green pasture.”
This means that when Jesus gives us His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, He is also saying that without receiving Him, we will not be able to live, love and serve Him in our daily lives. . . All of us without exception need God . . . and all of us without exception need Jesus Himself to nourish and strengthen us . . . for without Him, our strength and hope will rest on our own will. From our experiences, we know that, without exception you and I, being weak and sinful . . . we will sooner or later crash under the weight of our burdens in life.
Let me conclude by remind ourselves, that as Christians, you and I are truly so blessed. God has given us the gift of faith and the Body and Blood of Christ Himself to strengthen us on our lives’ journey . . . As such, we have responsibilities and a mission to fulfil according to God’s Will and Ways.
In few moments, we will have the ritual of the “washing of the feet”. The essence of this ritual is the embracing of Christ’s total selfless Service of others in our daily living, even to the point of death . . . so as to live God’s Will and love in His Ways. With Him in us through the Eucharist, Jesus tells us that nothing is impossible, but without Him and the Eucharist, “we will not have eternal life.”
Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.
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