By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
Pope Francis, speaking off the cuff during his homily during the Mass of the Lord's Supper at Regina Coeli prison, contextualized the Gospel passage from John in which Jesus washes his disciples’ feet.
Jesus does what a slave does
He explains that this was a task done by slaves. After having dirtied their feet on the dusty roads, people would return home. As soon as they entered their house, a slave would provide the “service” of washing their feet. “Jesus wants to do this service to give us an example of how we must serve one another,” Pope Francis says.
Those who command must serve
The Pope then brought up the passage where two disciples “who wanted to climb the corporate ladder” asked Jesus to give them the most important places. After looking at them with love like he always did, Jesus told them they didn’t know what they were asking. He described what those in positions of power do: “command and make others serve them.” In thinking of times past, Pope Francis says that there have been many kings and cruel people who have made slaves of other people. But Jesus says it must not be this way with us. “The one who commands must serve,” the Pope reminds us. “Jesus overturns the historical cultural habits of that time, but also of our own day.” If only the kings and emperors of the past had understood Jesus’ teaching and had served instead of commanding and killing, "so many wars would never have happened," Pope Francis observes.
Jesus serves today in me
Turning to those present, Pope Francis told them that Jesus tells those discarded by society that they are important. “Jesus serves us today, here in Regina Coeli.” Jesus risks himself for each person. Jesus does not know how to wash his hands of people. He knows how to risk, for his name is Jesus, not Pontius Pilate. In going after the lost sheep, Jesus risks being wounded, Pope Francis asserts.
“I am a sinner like you. But I represent Jesus today,” Pope Francis confessed. He then invited the prisoners to think of the fact, as their feet were being washed by him, that “Jesus took a risk with this man, a sinner, to come to me to tell me that he loves me. This is service. This is Jesus. Before giving us himself in his body and blood, Jesus risked himself for each one of us—risked himself in service—because he loves us so much.”