18 April 2019 : Clericalism versus Servanthood


HOLY WEEK Thursday

Exodus 12:1-8,11-14; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-15

Jesus said to Peter, ‘If I do not wash you, you can have nothing in common with me.’

The introduction of John to the washing of the feet by Jesus is very solemn: Jesus knew that ‘the Father had put everything into his hands’; he knew that ‘he had come from God and was returning to God’. Therefore, ‘he got up from table, removed his outer garment’ and took a towel, tied it around his waist and…. Does the conclusion follow from the premises?

It is in consonance with the basic logic of the wisdom of the Gospel, that the last is the first and the servant is the master! This is of course foolishness to the world! The master is supposed to sit at table, not get up to serve. He is supposed to put on the robes of authority, not remove his outer garment and tie up a towel around his waist! He is supposed to stand up, not kneel at the feet of his servants! Peter thought so. That is why he protested. He probably guessed that after having washed his feet, Jesus would likely ask him to wash the feet of others. He would not like to do that. So, he refused to allow the master to wash his feet. Clever move! Behind this apparent respect for the Master, his own wish to be a Master was hidden. He was the leader, and would rather be served by others!

It is in this context that we can understand the words of Jesus: ‘If I do not wash your feet, you can have no part with me’! He was in effect saying: Peter, by refusing to allow me to wash your feet, you show that you have not understood the basic value system of the Kingdom of God! How can you be the leader of my Church? How can you claim to be my mission partner?

The Holy Father, Pope Francis, decries clericalism all the time, and one of the first ‘signs’ he worked, after his elevation, was to wash the feet of ordinary people, including two Muslim women, on Holy Thursday! The priestly service to the Body of the Lord in the Eucharist, logically is expressed in humble service to the Body of the Lord in the poor.  The ordination to priesthood, ipso facto, does not make the priest superior to the laity; rather it makes him a servant of the community. He is not to be a condescending service provider, but truly a servant! Clericalism is therefore, just the very opposite of authentic priesthood! If the priest is truly aware that God has put everything into his hands, and that his honour comes from him and it has to be returned to him, he will get up from the table, remove his outer garment, tie a towel around his waist and bend down to the feet of his brothers and sisters! Otherwise, he would have no part with Christ!


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