Auxiliary Bishop Sylvester David offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Friday 10 July 2020, during this time of the coronavirus pandemic. It is also available on the Archdiocese of Cape Town’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. Please also see below the text of his reflection, primarily for the deaf.
Reflection for Friday 10th July 2020
The opening prayer for the Mass during this week speaks of God raising up a fallen world “in the abasement” of his Son. Today I want to address the issue of God using humble means to bring about great deeds.
In a world where success and domination seem to be the hallmark of a person’s worth, we see God using the abasement of his Son to redeem the world. This option for abasement is typified in the servant songs in Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12. This path of humility is not unusual in the Bible. It is how God works e.g. the might of the Philistine army was brought down by an Israelite boy. The suffering servant and the story of David and Goliath are but two examples. I will leave it up to you to discover this strong and insistent thread in the Old Testament.
In the New Testament this abasement is acted out in the foot washing incident in John 13:1-15. In order for us to see the significance of this, we need to see what foot washing meant to the Jews. Washing of the feet was a sign of welcome to guests who had travelled long distances over dusty desert pathways to visit loved ones. Normally the slave did the foot washing; but if the guest was particularly important, then the master of the house himself would wash the guest’s feet. This was to say that the visitor was welcome. What Jesus did therefore was to welcome his apostles into his life and mission and to say that they were one with him.
It is also interesting that this action takes place in the context of the Eucharist. What the gospel is saying therefore is that for us to be a true Eucharistic community then we must accept each other – even those with not so fragrant feet. In other words, that there should be no untouchability among us. This is why Jesus says that we should follow his example (John 13:15). There are two instances in the Bible when we are directly called to imitate Christ; once in Paul’s letter to the Philippians; and the other in the Gospel passage describing the foot washing. I think it is very interesting that in both instances, Christ is presented to us as a slave – as being totally and utterly abased. Let’s look at how John describes the washing of the feet.
He got up from table, just as he got up from the table of his divinity; stripped off his outer garment, just as he stripped himself of his divine status; wrapped a towel around him, just as he put on human form. The towel is the badge of a slave, which tells us what kind of humanity he put on. Then he poured water into a basin just as later he would pour out his blood; and he washed the feet of the disciples just as later he would bathe them in the Holy Spirit. Compare the foot washing story to Paul’s description of Jesus in Philippians 2:5-11 when we are encouraged to put on the mind of Christ. If we want to follow his example, then we must get up from the table of pride, status, and self importance; strip off our jealousies and everything that makes us think that we are better than others, wrap ourselves in humility and then pour ourselves out in service of the neighbour. This is what it means to be a Eucharistic community.
The pandemic in which we find ourselves renders us helpless. It reminds us of our dependence on God and also of our depending on the neighbour to act with charity by wearing a face mask, and doing his or her bit to ensure my safety such as practicing social distancing and not popping in for a chat. Yes indeed – physically we have to practice social distancing, but in terms of Christian charity we are all in it together – in the same boat as it were. If we are not united in our common aim to make each other safe then we all start to sink. That is why we postpone our celebrations of the sacraments until it is safe for us to do so. We offer you our grateful thanks for your cooperation is this effort to protect life.
Let us pray – and I choose the opening prayer of the Mass for today: O God, who in the abasement of your Son have raised up a fallen world, fill your faithful with holy joy, for on those you have rescued from slavery to sin you bestow eternal gladness. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.[Blessing].