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Fr. John Hunter’s Reflection on the Word – JCFL Prayer Vigil 03.04.2014

The Gospel reading we have just heard is the one set in the Church’s Liturgy for the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday. It was, of course, at that supper that Jesus gave the Church his greatest gift, the Sacrament of his Body and Blood, the Eucharist, the Mass.JCFL Prayer Vigil - 3rd April 2014

But, before giving us that inestimable gift, he did something which demonstrated in a very special way his particular – you might almost say his peculiar – style of kingship. He knelt down and washed the feet of his disciples. He, the Lord and Master, became the servant, and a servant of the lowliest sort. After all, I am pretty sure that none of us here this evening would want to wash twenty-four feet, especially when those feet had walked in sandals – or even bare-foot – through streets untouched by the Council’s road sweepers!

If you read the rest of this thirteenth chapter of Saint John’s Gospel you will reach the point where Jesus says, “I give you a new commandent, that you love one another, even as I have loved you.” He is not speaking of love in the way modern people too often use the word, as something to do with passing infatuation or affection and self-indulgence, but as something which always wants the best for others, not for my own personal enjoyment or satisfaction.

In Jesus’s way of thinking, love is essentially to do with service, service of God and service of our fellowmen and women, without distinction of how smelly their feet might be, or how dislikeable or unwelcome we might find them. If you read how the Gospels record his ministry from start to finish you will find that it is all about service to the least accepted members of the society of his day. He called a tax collector named Matthew and common working men like Peter and John to be his disciples; he spent time talking with a Samaritan woman; he healed cripples and lepers, the classic outcasts of his day; he sat down and talked with a host of ordinary men and women because they ‘looked like sheep without a shepherd’.

His parables emphasised his idea of the true nature of love and service when he spoke of a Wayward Son; a man who was attacked by thieves; the lost sheep which needed rescuing. All of these – people and sheep – were, in one way or another, undeserving, but Jesus keeps making the point that they all need the practical application of his teaching about love – not the sort of love you see in Hollywood films or TV soap operas – but the sort of love which involves the total giving of self. And that was the sort of love he himself demonstrated in his Passion and Death. And the reward of his kind of love became obvious in his Resurrection and Ascension, when the Servant was revealed as the King.

As Saint Paul pointed out in his letter to the Philippians, it was because of Christ’s ‘taking on the form of a servant’ that he was then ‘highly exalted’. And that must be the message for us. As disciples of Jesus Christ, the Fulness of Light, we are called to be servants of all those who have no-one else to serve them, all those who are disregarded by the world, all those who are counted of no worth in the eyes of those who are living the good life in our modern world.

If we are to hope for the blessings of Resurrection and eternal life we have to learn the lessons taught by the Servant King. Life is, indeed, for living, but not simply for living for self. Jesus showed that our true humanity is to be realised in our interaction with others, especially those who are in any kind of need. Saint Paul tells us that he perfected his humanity and achieved his exaltation by his self-offering for those who needed his help, even though they certainly did not deserve it.

That should be the abiding lesson of Lent and Passiontide for us – service of God and service of all the Father’s beloved sons and daughters, wherever they are to be found.

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