Gospel Reflection 29 Mar - SVD INM - India Mumbai Province

Go to content

Main menu

Gospel Reflection 29 Mar










Maundy Thursday [Jn 13:1-15]

29 March 2018


Jesus Washes His Disciples’ Feet


Readings: (1) Ex 12:1-8.11-14 (2) 1 Cor 11:23-26


1.  Theme in brief:


Humble and sacrificial service


2.  Focus Statement


The Eucharist gives us spiritual energy to give ourselves totally in humble and sacrificial service of the needy so that we become worthy to have a share with Jesus and be his faithful disciples.


3.  Explanation of the text


By washing the feet of his disciples in the context of the Passover Meal – which is his Last Supper with his disciples – Jesus takes upon himself the role of a servant, since it is the duty of servants (literally, slaves) to wash the feet of their masters and guests.  Here he presents the image of lowliest of servants as he
stoops down to wash the feet of his disciples with a basin in hand and a towel around his waist (13:5). It is a sort of acted role-play to demonstrate his intention to render humble service to humanity unto death and thus accomplish his mission. The disciples are stunned at this act of humility and the reversal of roles with them. This humility of assuming a servant’s role symbolizes his ultimate act of humility and sacrificial love to be demonstrated on the cross. He wants to teach that the same love that he demonstrates by laying down his life on the cross should also be demonstrated by his disciples bylaying down their lives in humble and sacrificial service.

Traditionally, the symbolic meaning of
foot-washing done by Jesus is explained as an act of humility from his part. But in addition, it refers to his role of servanthood. A servant’s duty was, as per Jewish custom, to wash the feet of guests as they arrive for feasts and gatherings. Here Jesus stoops down like a servant to render a humble service as if they were his masters. This is clear from His explanation to Peter’s objection: "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand" (13:7). If it is a mere physical washing of feet, what is there to understand later on? Or if this action is meant only to teach a lesson in humility and service of a slave, even then what is there to understand later on? Anybody can understand a slave’s service on the spot. Experts tell us that the word "later" in this context refers to his sacrificial death on the cross. Jesus, in fact, says that only when he lays down his life on the cross, the disciples will understand how and to what extent they should serve out of love for one another. Thus Jesus gives the connotation of "service" to his entire ministry, including his passion and death.

When Peter objects, Jesus explains that washing his feet is a
condition to have a share or part with him (13:8). To have a share (literally, inheritance) with Jesus is to have fellowship with him or to participate fully in his life, and to be his faithful disciples. For that the disciples themselves must be interiorly washed first with the water of baptism (13:8) and be willing to "wash one another’s feet" as their Lord and Teacher has done. Foot-washing is not to be taken literally, but to mean giving (or spending) one’s life totally in service (13:14). Through foot-washing he wants to demonstrate that service-mindednessis a requirement for discipleship. As Jesus’ body is given up (broken or sacrificed) for the service of humankind, the disciples also need to sacrifice their bodily energies for others’ service, making it asacrificial service.

4.   Application to life

John’s gospel has no narrative of the institution of the Eucharist. Instead, we have the episode of washing of disciples’ feet by Jesus during his Last Supper with his disciples. Why did Jesus wash the feet of his disciples? The traditional answer is to humble himself. Though this answer is true, there is a further or deeper meaning in this symbolic act. In it we get the image of a servant stooping down to wash the feet of his disciples. A servant symbolizes not only humility but also service rendered to the master. Since Jesus washed the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper and the first three gospels tell us that he instituted the Eucharist during it, we can find a close relationship between the Eucharist and foot-washing. From what is explained above, it is clear that foot-washing symbolizes Jesus’ supreme act of service rendered to humanity by his sacrificial death on the cross. The Eucharist is a memorial of the total self-gift of Jesus given to us as a result of his humble service that reaches its climax at his sacrificial death on the cross. As he told his disciples he tells us: If you want to have a share with me, or if you want to be my faithful disciple, you too should also stoop down to "wash one another’s feet" (that is, humbly serve one another).

Not only John, but also the synoptic gospels take Jesus’ sacrificial death as his
greatest act of servicerendered to humanity. Take for example, in Mk 10:45 Jesus says: "The Son of Man came not be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many" (or to redeem many people). Giving one’s life refers to death. In Lk 22:19, Jesus says at the Last Supper, "This is my body, which is given for you’’, and "Do this in remembrance of me". In other words, "This is my body which is given for your service". Jesus was a man for others. During the Last Supper he gives us a spiritual nourishment (namely, the Holy Eucharist) to be men and women not for ourselves but for others. By washing the feet of his disciples in the context of the institution of the Eucharist, he wants to tell us that his body is broken and blood is shed for our service. Hence, we too must ‘break our bodies’ and ‘shed our blood’ (that is, spend ourselves) for the service of others. The Eucharist, if taken in this spirit, gives us spiritual energy to ‘break our bodies’ and ‘shed our blood’ to serve others with commitment and devotion.
What is service then? It mainly implies self-giving or giving one’s life for the welfare of others which includes a sharing of time, talents, goods, resources, knowledge, speech, and energies for the good or welfare of others. Service and sacrifice are interrelated; no service, no sacrifice and vice versa. "Do this in my memory" is the same as do this in memory of my sacrificial service. Hence, whenever we hear these words during Holy Mass, we are reminded that our bodies (i.e., energies, talents, time, activities, etc.) need to be given or sacrificed for the service of others. Today we need to ask ourselves whether we receive the Eucharist as a spiritual energy to give ourselves in service, or just as a routine, or just for our psychological satisfaction.
The word Maundy Thursday comes from the Latin word ‘mandatum’ (= commandment). It refers to the commandment given by Jesus at the Last Supper to love one another as he has loved us (Jn 13:34 and 15:12). It is also a command to serve others like a humble servant by sacrificing one’s own life for others. Jesus’ admonition to his disciples "You also must wash one another’s feet" (Jn 13:14) is the same as, "love one another as I have loved you" (15:12),  or serve one another as I have served you to the point of laying down my life on the cross.
There are two types of services which we render: (1) those which we have to render out of compulsion, like our daily work/job/duty and household chores; and (2) those which we willingly and voluntarily take up out of love for the good of those who are in need of our love. Do we involve ourselves in the latter type of services? Like Jesus, are we willing to stoop down to heal, care, serve, reconcile, forgive and comfort those who are in need of this sort of services? Do we actively look for opportunities for this sort of service in our own little ways? Even a word of comfort/ consolation/ assurance in favour of the needy and the suffering is a matter of service. The Lord whom we encounter in the Eucharist is encountered among such people. It is by "washing the feet" of such people (that is, by serving them) that we live our Eucharistic experience in the sacrament.

Today, let us examine and see whether we, who receive the Eucharist regularly, are
affected orinfluenced by Christ’s way of thinking regarding various services in our society and the Church, or by world’s way of thinking:
Ø Though jobs are called "service’’ in the secular world, many people consider their jobs as a meansonly for earning money, not for the service of humanity or society or for nation building.

Ø   People are respected and their services are valued highly if they bring plenty of money. For example, in many third world countries, the service rendered by working women as nurses and teachers is valued higher than that of so many mothers at home who teach and nurse their children day and night, only because they are not paid for it.
Ø  There is a tendency in quite a number of people to escape from occasions to render service including leadership roles in the society and the Church, if there is no monitory or prestige reward.
Ø   We observe many people wanting to escape from common work and meetings and refusing to share their time, talents, knowledge and energies within their own community.
Ø  We also see people wasting a lot of time in gossiping, loitering around, playing cards and watching TV for hours after hours, instead of using some of that time for social or community service.

There is a tendency in many of us to receive the Eucharist for personal and private spiritual benefits only and dissociate it from concrete deeds of service. Normally, after receiving the Holy Communion during the Mass, we are accustomed to thank the Lord privately who comes into our hearts in the form of Sacred Bread and pray to him only for personal favours or for our own spiritual advancement. Besides these, today’s gospel-message reminds us to pray to the Eucharistic Lord to energize us to doworks of mercy or concrete deeds of service as he demonstrated by washing of the feet of his disciples. We can choose any one or two works of mercy mentioned here: to share our food and drink with the hungry; to volunteer for serving drinking water in public places/ functions/ gatherings/ celebrations; to give away our clothes/ utensils/ furniture/ equipments/ gadgets to the poor or the needy; to share our space/ place/ facilities with the poor for resting in between their work or for conducting classes/ coaching/ meetings/ gathering of the poor; to visit the sick in houses/ hospitals; to visit the elderly senior citizens at their homes or in the Homes for the Aged; to comfort and pray for the sick; to take proper care of the sick; to donate blood to the poor patients; to visit the houses of persons arrested by the police or put in prison; to spend time in praying for a departed person and to console the bereaved family; to visit such bereaved families some time after the funeral to console them and to pray with them. Only when we connect the Eucharist with works of mercy and service, it becomes the Bread that gives life and love to the world (not only to us).

5.  Response to God's Word

Do we involve in any voluntary service? Like Jesus, are we willing to stoop down to serve the needy without any appointment or compulsion? Do we join any social service group or association, or totally keep ourselves confined only to our homes? At home also, do we expect others to serve us at our beck and call, or equally contribute to the total welfare of the family? What type of service do we routinely render to family and society, and what we do not, though they need it very much? Is reception of the Eucharist only a custom to be followed routinely, or a reminder (memorial) of Christ’s service rendered to humanity which culminated in his sacrificial death on the cross? Do we take it as spiritual nourishment given by Jesus to serve like him? Does Eucharist energize and send us to spend our energies, talents, time and resources for the service of others?

6.  A prayer

Lord Jesus, for our sake, you became a humble servant to the extent of sacrificing your life on the cross. You were a man for others. Thank you for giving us such wonderful spiritual nourishment in the Eucharist to be men and women for others. Thank you for giving us spiritual energy through the Eucharist to serve others. Grant that with this energy we may ‘break our bodies’ and ‘shed our blood’ by sharing our time, talents, goods, knowledge, speech and energies with the needy, not out of compulsion, but out of love. As we meet you as our Lord and Master in the Eucharist, grant that we may meet you also among the poor and the needy through our service to them.  Amen.


Back to content | Back to main menu