April 7, 2009
Fighting with Towel
John 13: 1-15 “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you
ought to wash one another’s feet.”
In boxing, when a trainer sees that his boxer is being badly beaten by his opponent, he throws a towel and the fight is over. In boxing arena, throwing a towel is a sign of surrender and giving up. But in the arena of loving, a towel picks up a different meaning – it is a sign of commitment to service and genuine loving.
In our gospel today, Jesus prepares himself for the greatest fight of His life. It is one person against the world. He knows that He is facing a dreadful, shameful and painful death. Clearly, it will be a lopsided victory by the enemy: “Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. The devil had already induced Judas to hand him over.” (John 13:2). It is very tempting for Jesus to throw the towel. In fact, when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, he entertained throwing the towel and giving up, “My Father, if it is possible, take this cup of suffering from me. Yet now what I want, but what you want.”(Matthew 26:39).
In our boxing arena called life, for brave fighters like Jesus, throwing the towel is not an option. He courageously faced His enemies up to the end: “He loved his own … and he loved them to the end.”(John 13:1). Jesus knows nobody loses in loving. And so, instead of throwing the towel, He decided to tie the towel on his waist and started washing the disciples’ feet. The Son of God gladly takes the role of a slave, ever ready to wash dirty things including the disciples’ dirty feet. It is fighting back with towel in the name of love.
One of the difficulties in washing things is the likelihood of getting dirty. We don’t want to clean things because we don’t want to mess ourselves. But when one loves, he/she is willing to get dirty. A mother finds joy in bathing her soiled child even it means getting soiled. A boy bathing his dog will eventually get wet. When one cleans things, he/she will likely get some dirt. The dirty towel becomes the symbol of service.
When Jesus decided to wash the disciples’ feet, He knew that he would be tainted with our dirt – our sins. But out of His love for us, he joyfully willed it. He died for our sins. His blood on the cross cleansed and renewed our wretched spirits.
But our pericope today did not end in washing feet. After the washing, Jesus wore his clothes back and said to the disciples, "Do you understand what I have just done to you? You, then, should wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:12-14).
Jesus gave us an example to follow. He wants us to tie a towel in our waist - a symbol of our desire to love and be of service to others. Tying a towel in our waist may mean going out of our comfort zones and be involved in cleaning others’ mess. In this world of consumerism where “service without a reward or compensation” is not a popular option, the only way to fight is to fight back with “towel” – to be a servant of all like Jesus. To serve and not to be served. To love and not to be loved … until death. It is a road less travelled and seldom appreciated, ironically, it is the only way to victory in the boxing arena called life.
Somebody did a golden deed; Somebody proved a friend in need; Somebody sang a beautiful song; Somebody smiled the whole day long; Somebody thought, 'Tis sweet to live; Somebody said, I'm glad to give; Somebody fought a valiant fight; Somebody lived to shield the right; Was that somebody you?" – Anonymous
- Fr.Willy M. Samson,SJ
April 8, 2009