MASTER AND SERVANT
When Jesus gathered his disciples for the Last Supper, they were having trouble over who was the greatest. This was no new issue for them. Earlier, "An argument started between them about which of them was the greatest" (Lk 9:46).
The disciples were gathered for the Passover feast. They were keenly aware that someone had to wash everyone else's feet. The problem was that the people who washed feet were the least ‑ servants, slaves.
So there they sat, feet caked with dust, dirty and smelly. It was such a sore point that they were not even going to talk about it. No one wanted to be considered the least.
Then Jesus took a towel and a basin. The towel is a sign of service. He lived out being servant to them, and he called them to the way of service: "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 copy what I have done to you" (John 13:14‑15). So, Jesus redefined greatness, and superiority. Jesus is the Lord, but Jesus is the Servant. The great one is the one who serves.
Christ, the Lord and Master, lowered himself to the rank of the commonest servant. He did the menial duty of washing feet. As if that were not humiliating enough, he even washed the feet of Judas. He knew what Judas was about, but he served even his betrayer, without resentment or reproach.
He showed us through it all that, if we are to be called followers of Christ, we must offer him our own attitude of humble servant. The apostles were the first to learn this important lesson. In their future lives as teachers placed over people, they would have to be servants first and foremost.
The serving attitude of Jesus was vividly expressed in the supper room, when he washed their feet. It is touchingly expressed in the ritual of washing feet, which the priests carry out, as servants of the Christian community.
On Holy Thursday, we act out this basic attitude of Jesus. Here we find Jesus Christ in the condition of our lowly body‑servant. The Last Supper is the model of all our eucharistic meals. Our Holy Thursday Mass impresses on us, especially on the Spiritual Assistants, and on the Ministers of the Secular Franciscan fraternities, to follow the example of Jesus most carefully.
The second reading on Holy Thursday evening (1 Cor 11:23‑26) makes the same point as the gospel. The Corinthians had turned their eucharistic meals into shows of pettiness and jealousy. St Paul reminded them that the Lord's sacrifice of humble service had to be confirmed by their charity to one another, otherwise their eucharistic gatherings were meaningless, and even damaging. He reminded the Ephesians also to "follow the way of love" in their daily living.
St Francis took to heart the gospel references to feet-washing. He wrote, in Chapter 6 of his earlier Rule: "Let no one be called "prior", but let everyone in general be called a lesser brother. Let one wash the feet of the other" (FA:ED I, p.68).
In Chapter 8 of his later Rule, he called the superiors of the friars' fraternities "ministers and servants", beginning with the Minister General (FA:ED I, p.104).
The Secular Franciscan documents have adopted the same terms, adding: "Their service, which lasts for a definite period, is marked by a ready and willing spirit and is a duty of responsibility to each member and to the community" (Rule 21). "The brothers and sisters, rejecting all ambition, should show love for the fraternity with a spirit of service, prepared both to accept and to relinquish the office" (GC 32.2).
The message of the Eucharist on Holy Thursday is inward‑looking and personal. We are to search our own hearts for signs of our humble service of others, willingness to obey God's will, and efforts of self‑sacrifice and unselfish love.
We face the challenge to behave like Jesus the Servant. What a hard lesson to learn! Some are overloaded with chores while others won't lift a finger. How easily we fall into frustration and depression. We feel that we are imposed upon, used and abused, not appreciated, overlooked, slighted, unceremoniously dropped.
We prefer to be aiming high, successful and popular, sought after and appreciated. Words like "humble", "obedient" and "self‑sacrificing" sound old‑fashioned and misfitting in our modern way of life. No doubt, they were never in fashion.
Whenever there is trouble over who is the greatest, there is trouble over who is the least. Most of us know that we are not the greatest; just don't let anyone treat us as the least. When we have learnt to be humble, obedient and self‑sacrificing servants of our fellows, then we will be genuinely superior.
Please God, on Holy Thursday, we will empty our hearts of selfishness and hurt pride, bitterness and resentment. Pray to be filled with the humble, loving attitude of Jesus.
Jesus would give the full and final proof of his willingness to humble himself in the way he died. He gave himself completely, until there was no more of him to give, on the hill of Calvary. The Lord is our servant in every Eucharist.