A friend of mine died last week; it was a shock to all who knew him. For many years he was a volunteer at the campus ministry center where I served as Chaplain. I knew that I could count on him for anything, even at a moment’s notice. Today, he would have left work early to help prepare, and participate in, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. He was faithful, generous and dependable; he’ll be remembered by many as having been such. Everyone who attends that liturgy will notice his absence, and be reminded of how much he gave to that community.
I thought about my friend’s life of service to others when I looked at the Scripture readings for this liturgy. Jesus’ last act with his disciples was one of service and compassion. He intended his disciples to remember him as entirely dedicated to their spiritual well-being.
In Jesus’ culture, washing feet was a menial task relegated to servants. In Luke’s Gospel, foot washing was described as one of the requisites of hospitality toward dinner guests. Jesus used this ordinary, menial task to communicate something at the Last Supper that went far beyond ordinary hospitality. He willingly made himself servant to his friends at the table in order to reinforce his teaching and give them an example of how they were to treat one another.
It’s worth our while to look at the precise nature of the example that Jesus gave his disciples at the Last Supper. If he had asked the disciples what each wanted from him, I’m sure they could have come up with a long list of wants and needs. In fact, Simon Peter was quick to speak up about Jesus’ actions. At first, he was embarrassed by the menial task that Jesus was taking on; then, he asked for even more than Jesus was offering. (John 13:6-9)
This particular act of foot washing wasn’t about hospitality; it was about spiritual renewal. Jesus wasn’t attempting to satisfy any particular need that the disciples were aware of having; on the contrary, he was attempting to show them a spiritual need they had never considered. He was attempting to open their eyes to the possibility of complete forgiveness from God.
It must have made an impression. After the Resurrection they preached salvation through Jesus’ death. The sort of salvation that the disciples’ contemporaries wanted, and expected, from God was military deliverance from the power of the Roman Empire. In Jesus’ death, the disciples experienced a sort of salvation that was completely unexpected; they experienced deliverance from sin.
On this night when we remember Jesus’ saving sacrifice we might want to ask ourselves how we would like to be remembered. The disciples remembered Jesus as the One who was concerned with their spiritual well-being, even before they were able to understand the nature of his concern. He did not offer satisfaction of their wishes and desires. Rather, he offered the seemingly impossible: perfect forgiveness from God.
How will we, the current generation of disciples, be remembered? Will we be remembered as being an accurate reflection of the world in which we lived – deeply concerned with our many personal wants and needs? Or, will we be remembered as accurate reflections of Jesus – the One who opened the eyes of the spiritually blind, and offered new life to the world through faith?
Of all the possible ways that our lives could be summarized, the Gospel proclaims only one. The Gospel directs us to give humble service to one another, and wholehearted devotion to God’s will. How would you like to be remembered by those who know you?