As a young teenager, I was an Altar Server in my parish and since I grew up in a small sub-urban parish, there were only a handful of us. For most of the main liturgical celebrations, all of us would be involved especially for the Easter Triduum. I remember serving at one Holy Thursday Mass and I was assisting the priest for the washing of the feet. Among the 12 who were chosen to have their feet washed that year was this man, whom most of us feared as children because he was very stern. When it was his turn for his feet to be washed, I could not help notice that there were tears rolling down uncontrollably from his eyes as the priest bent down to wash his feet. I always wondered what emotions was he expressing through his tears… but I never dared to ask. Many years later, I did ask this “uncle” and he told me that he felt so humbled that this priest whom he looked up to had bent down, touched and washed his feet. He went on to say that he has never had such a humbling experience in his life. He added, “Here is a man with great “power” stooping so low to do the “job” reserved for servants.”
The disciples of Jesus were expecting Him to manifest His power by overthrowing the Roman government. In fact, this had been the dream of the Israelites for a long time because of the oppression they experienced. To the surprise of all, especially Simon Peter, Jesus does show power but not in the way they expected. One among the many definitions of power is “the ability to influence others.” The Israelites (including some of His disciples) wanted Jesus to influence in a way that would bring a change of government but Jesus chooses another way to influence them… an influence and power that would have lasting effects rather than a short term effect.
As a young boy, Spiderman was one of my favorite comics and the line that I remember till today from that comic is when Uncle Ben tells Peter Parker… “with great power comes great responsibility.” In our celebration today, Jesus shows great power and with that great power comes the great responsibility… to LOVE. Love is not merely a concept. Jesus did not just tell His disciples that He loved them but He wants to demonstrate what true love is. Authentic love is manifested in service. You can tell someone “I love you” a million times; but if you do not show it in action, love becomes purely words!
Jesus sets the agenda that the influence He and His disciples will bring to the world is going to be guided by the power of love in service. That is why when Simon Peter refused to allow Jesus to wash his feet Jesus immediately says he can have no part in His mission. And Jesus concludes by saying that what He has done, the disciples are to do the same.
The disciples of Jesus are called to love through service. Most of us do find challenges in service. There is no doubt that service requires time and today we live in a society that is hard pressed for time:
• we have time to socialize with friends and business associates but hard pressed with time for BEC gatherings;
• we have time to Facebook but hard pressed with time for personal and family prayer;
• we have time for tuition, music, karate but hard pressed with time for extra Sunday School activities or camps;
• we have time for movies and parties but hard pressed with time for youth fellowship in Church;
• we have time for our bosses and friends but we are hard pressed with time for my spouse and children;
• we have NO TIME is the common excuse for anything related to service and God… or if there is nothing in return for ME!
Despite the fact that millions of people will tonight hear the words of Jesus… “I have given you an example so that you may copy,” we cannot but accept the fact that we are becoming more and more a selfish society. It is all about ME , MY and love of self! We have become an ego-centric society as the questions we often ask are “What do I get in return… what is in it for me?”
It is about my enjoyment and me and so it doesn’t really matter that in the pursuit of my happiness, someone else is undermined, exploited, abused or that the environment is destroyed. So what…. it does not concern or affect my family or me!!! This is where we are headed and it is the path of self-destruction.
What Jesus demonstrates tonight by the washing of the feet is that we need to break the worldly understanding of power and replace it with Jesus’ understanding of power… and that is the power of love through service. It is when we offer ourselves for the common good that we find the joy of loving God because in the words of St Francis of Assisi, “It is in giving that we receive”. The receiving is not about material goods but receiving the fullness of life that Jesus has to offer. The giving comes from our love for God and one another. Are we ready to serve Jesus when called on? As Jesus Himself said, I have come not to be served but to serve… to serve because of love. Do you love me… is the question Jesus puts to us tonight. If you do, then show it in service… do as Jesus did!