Holy Thursday - Mass of the Lord’s Supper:
Gospel – John 13:1-15
"Humility – Self-Sacrificing Love

Preached by Fr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of St Ignatius – Singapore
on 2 April 2015

Pope Francis on his Palm Sunday homily a few days ago said that imitating the humility of Jesus is what makes Holy Week “holy.”  He explained further that Jesus’ incarnation and death serve as strong examples of God’s humility. In spite of the shame Jesus faced, He continues to be humble in His ways of living the Truth of the Gospel that He preached.  “Humility is God’s way; humility is Jesus’ way; there is no other.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus ended up on the Cross because in His Humility, He accepted His Father’s Will to save you and I and all of humankind.  In Jesus’ Humility, He prayed in His agony, “Father, if possible, remove this cup, but not My Will be done, but Yours.”  Yes, “humility is God’s way; humility is Jesus’ way; there is no other way to gain the salvation that God offers us.  Pride is precisely rejecting God’s Ways, and insisting and asserting our ways, as against God’s Will and Ways.

In a few moments, we will be re-enacting the sacred ritual of the washing of the feet.  In this we recall and in faith re-experience spiritually what Jesus did during the Last Supper.  We all know that during Jesus’ time, the washing of the feet of guests was done by servants or slaves; not by the host.  In the Gospel that we just heard proclaimed, Jesus, radically reversed the roles in the ritual. Being the Son of God, He chose to wash the feet of His apostles.


Having done so, Jesus 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.”

My brothers and sisters is Christ, Jesus wants you and I to stoop and bend low in our service of each other; He wants you and I to wash each other’s feet as He had urged all His disciples to wash each other’s feet.  This is because the washing of the feet is clearly a symbol of His humble and “self-sacrificing Love” .

Obviously, we as believers and followers of Jesus if we were to say to Jesus, “No, I am not willing to embrace the humility and service that you ask of me, then Jesus’ answer as He gave to His apostles, “then you can have nothing to do with me.”  But, if we say to Jesus, “Yes, Lord, I will do as you tell me, then, Jesus would say, “Good and faithful servant, begin to share such mutual love with one another today: first of all, begin in your homes; in our religious communities; this mutual love should also include our relatives and friends, and also between ourselves as a parish family, and of course to all those who are suffering so immensely amongst us and in the world.


I am sure, it has come across our minds during our quiet time of reflection on our lives or during our prayer, that while Jesus has constantly proclaimed to us in the Gospel of our need to have “self-sacrificing love,” why is it so difficult to be “self-sacrificing” in our daily living; more difficult in some of us than in others?

As mentioned by Pope Francis, perhaps, one of the reasons is our lack of the humility that Jesus had; the humility that seeks the Truth of the Gospel, lives the Truth of the Gospel and develops a personal relationship with Jesus of the Gospel.

Wakefield tells the story of the famous inventor Samuel Morse who was once asked what happens when he encountered situations where he didn't know what to do. Morse responded, "More than once, and whenever I could not see my way clearly, I knelt down and prayed to God for light and understanding."

Morse received many honours from his invention of the telegraph but felt undeserving: "I have made a valuable application of electricity not because I was superior to other men but solely because God, who meant it for mankind, must reveal it to someone and He was pleased to reveal it to me." 
(Tim Hansel, Eating Problems for Breakfast, Word Publishing, 1988, pp. 33-34.)

Humility is seeking the Truth of the Gospel, living the Truth of the Gospel and developing a personal relationship Jesus of the Gospel.  It was John Riskin who said, "I believe the first test of a truly great man is his humility. I do not mean by humility, doubt of his own power, or hesitation in speaking his opinion. But really great men have a feeling that the greatness is not in them but through them; that they could not do or be anything else than God made them."

Andrew Murray said, "The humble man feels no jealousy or envy. He can praise God when others are preferred and blessed before him.  He can bear to hear others praised while he is forgotten.  This is because he has received the spirit of Jesus, who pleased not Himself, and who sought not His own honour.  Therefore, in putting on the Lord Jesus Christ he has put on the heart of compassion, kindness, meekness, longsuffering, and humility."

Henry Augustus Rowland, professor of physics at Johns Hopkins University, was once called as an expert witness at a trial. During cross-examination a lawyer demanded, "What are your qualifications as an expert witness in this case?"  The normally modest and retiring professor replied quietly, "I am the greatest living expert on the subject under discussion." Later a friend well acquainted with Rowland's disposition expressed surprise at the professor's uncharacteristic answer.  Rowland answered, "Well, what did you expect me to do? I was under oath." Today in the Word, August 5, 1993.

My sisters and brothers in Christ, humility is not only seeking and living any type of truths in life or trying to be good in life.  More specifically, the humility that we speak of in today’s Gospel, is the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus, and following the path of Jesus’ life which includes the Cross.  This means that there can be no humility without humiliation.”

Pope Francis says that by taking on the “form of a slave,” Jesus shows us that true humility is expressed in the service of others and consists of stripping and emptying oneself of worldliness that tempt us with “vanity, success and pride; with humility, we make room for God in our hearts, our homes and our lives.  The question you and I need to reflect on is “How willing are we to live in such Christ-like manner daily?

Pope Francis says that the martyrs of our time are those who refuse to deny Jesus and willingly endure insult and injury, with great dignity; many others selflessly give themselves in hidden service to others, and pray for those who are persecuted “because they are Christians.”


And so, my sisters and brothers in Christ, if we can open our hearts to be inspired by these great witnesses of the Church, if we open our hearts to want to become more like Jesus, we will also, like these holy men and women, and martyrs of our time, find the needed grace and strength to bear the Crosses of our daily living and be the Christ-like humble servant that our world needs so desperately today . . . in order that the Gospel of Jesus can transform the world of darkness, confusion and suffering we live in.

As I conclude, let us remind ourselves that “Humility,” Pope Francis says, “is a way which constantly amazes and disturbs us: We will never get used to a humble God.”  “Christian humility is not within the virtue of saying: ‘I am not important’ and hiding our pride. No, Christian humility is telling the truth: and admitting that ‘I am a sinner’.  Tell the truth: this is our truth.  But there is another truth: God saves us. He saves us when we are on the margins; He does not save us in our certainties.  Let us ask for the grace of having the wisdom to put ourselves on the margins.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, this grace of humility is essential if we want to grow in our relationship with the Jesus; when we receive and live in such grace of humility, we will gain the Gospel Wisdom of Christ to grow in our love for one another and be Christ’s compassion for all suffering peoples in the world; and together, we will then journey and gain the eternal salvation that Jesus offers us through His humble and self-sacrificing Love.

Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.


visitors since 5 April 2015

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