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A true spirit of service

In Catholic churches around the world today, the Christian community commemorates the decision of Jesus to wash the feet of the disciples at what was to be his last supper. The Gospel of John narrates a very special context of Jesus who, “having loved his disciples, loves them to the end” (Jn 13, 1).

This symbolic action of Jesus of Nazareth stirred the imagination of some of the greatest artists. All were moved by the image of Jesus who presents Himself as the Lord and Master who takes off his mantle and washes the feet of his disciples as any slave would do in his master’s house.

Striking is the fact that Jesus insists this is something the disciples should do one to the other in memory of Him. It is one of the important commandments He gives His disciples at the last supper. He gives the new commandment of love; He enriches His Church with the gifts of the Eucharist and the priesthood but reminds His disciples they have to wash each others’ feet.

Jesus introduces a new paradigm in the service of the community. He insists on a number of occasions He has come to serve and not to be served. At one moment He says His style is different from that of the worldly powers, of those who are called benefactors by populations subdued to them.

We have adopted some of that heritage in the use of the words ‘minister’ when we refer to people either in government or in other societies called to exercise authority with a spirit of service. The term minister itself means ‘servant’. Maundy Thursday reminds us that these words – service, commitment, ministry – should not be hollow words but have a content.

The Maundy Thursday narrative reminds us every year that exercise of authority has to be a service to the community. And this is the antidote to corruption, to dictatorship; it is the antidote for any abuse of power. The fact that people with public responsibility keep asking themselves in their consciences whether their motivation is to be of service to the common good.

But the washing of feet is an attitude that purifies and cleanses the heart of any blemish of self-interest on any level of human relationships. Whether it is within the family and the relationships between the couples themselves, whether it is between parents and children, whether it is the extended family and the way we take care of grandparents and people in the family who are sick... We all need to remember this important example of the Lord who gives His life as a ransom for the multitude and does not think about His divine dignity but, taking the form of a slave, “obeys the Father unto death, death on the cross” (Phil 2, 8).

As we commemorate the Paschal Triduum as a nation of believers and enjoy the colourful expressions of our culture, imbued with Christian symbols and ideals, we should ask ourselves whether this culture is still at the core of our society’s ethos. Or whether Catholic culture has simply become a veneer with which we numb the calls of propriety. Or whether this culture of service that Jesus brings and empowers is still the ideal we adopt and choose to follow.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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