Holy Thursday: are you willing to bend...?

(from today's homily)

If you want to know who a Christian is... you know it now: he / she is the one who washes the feet of other people. When this word becomes flesh in you, then you are a Christian. If you want to know what love is according to Jesus... You now know it now because today's passage started saying: he loved them to the end. 

As I said on Sunday, as far as we talk about being healed, being freed, being forgiven, being fed... all is fine. It is also fine when we talk about his love for us washing our feet and dying on the cross for us. The problem comes when we become aware that he calls us to do what he did: washing other people's feet. 

Being a Christian is not about washing our own feet but others'... Pauls says that God gives each one of us particular gifts in order to serve others. It was clear to him. 

Our societies are not built on this. Our societies are built on other so called values: power, success, money. Ask a young person today what his or her goal in file is and the answer might be: to succeed in life, to be successful (whatever that means), to be the richest man or woman in the country, the continent... 

Our societies are based on the idea that some people are important and others are not, some are powerful and others powerless, some count and others do not count. Many might think it is fine but … it is not.

Today's Gospel is absolutely challenging because here you have the Lord and Master doing something that was completely unheard of. The washing of the feet would not have been done by a man unless he was a slave, it was done by a woman. It was also not done at the end of the meal but at the beginning as a sign of welcome. 

Jesus gives this a complete new meaning and the Lord and Master, puts a towel round his waist, bends down and begins to wash the feet of each one of them. Judas included. 

Are you ready to bend down? Do you plan to put a limit to your bending down...? If you are, it is fine, but... think twice before considering yourself a Christian.

The question is: are we building our lives, our families, the church on the values of our society or are we willing to build them based on the Gospel?

I believe that today we do not only remember what Jesus did but the washing of the feet becomes a sign of what we are called to do.

The bishop leads in service. The sign of men and women, young and old should make it clear. It was great to have a priest and a sister among them. No one, absolutely no one is excluded. 

I have been going to Rome in February invited by the community of St Egidio. Bp Ndlovu OSM used to go too. One of their members joined us at our celebrations last January. 

At their meeting we pray together, we reflect together, we serve together. One year, a number of us – bishops – were invited to visit and serve at a restaurant they have in Rome were around 1000 poor people go three times' a week for some food. Guess who were the waiters? "Our Lordships": Archbishop Buti Thlagale (Johannesburg), Bishop Teddy Kumalo (Eshowe), Bishop Michael Wustenberg (Aliwal North) and myself. 

At a certain point someone realised ours were "unusual faces" and asked me who we were. You should have seen his face when I said we were bishops.

That is the Gospel. Only when we will accept that, we will see a change at home, in our country, in our church. Not before. 

We are celebrating our centenary. We certainly want our church to grow. It will but only if people coming to our parishes find people washing each other's feet. Changing their clothes for the ones of someone who serves, bending down... Remember that Jesus never removed the towel...

A bishop, a priest must lead in the church. Each one of you should be “leaders” at home, in your communities, at work... 

That is our dignity! Washing of feet is the dignity of a bishop, of a priest... because before being called to be priests we were baptised and nothing... absolutely nothing is more important than that. 


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Bishop of the Diocese of Manzini (Swaziland)

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