Choice. It’s all around us. As consumers, we’re told that we can have things the way we like it, when we want it. It’s part of the self-service society we now live it. At the supermarket, we can self-scan. At the airport, we can self-check-in. Shopping on-line, we can see a bewildering array of options and choose exactly what we want. It makes things cheaper for the companies, because we are doing more of the work ourselves. But this also comes with a price. That price is a kind of loneliness and isolation – and it sells us an illusion, the illusion that we are self-sufficient.
Sooner or later, most of us will need help. If we live to a ripe old age, we might need someone to cut our nails, manage our mobility or even provide all-round nursing care. As Christians, we will need to resist the temptation to say “I can do it myself, thanks” and receive the help on offer with good grace.
But Jesus wants us to do more than that. We don’t just help each other when we can’t manage. We help each other because we are one body with many parts, and the Church works best when allow ourselves to serve one another. There’s a cost to this too – if you let someone else help you, chances are you won’t get everything just the way you like it.
When I first became a priest, I learned quickly never to say “no” to offers of help if there was any way I could make use of that help. I also learned that while I could do things my way, it’s always best to let other people do things their way. Unless some important point of Health & Safety or Safeguarding is at stake, trying to make other people do things my way is a hiding to nothing!
Simon Peter is appalled when Jesus wants to wash his feet. But if Jesus is going to do it at all, then he should wash all of Simon’s body, right? No. Jesus does things differently. He wants to wash our feet and Peter learns to accept that with good grace. The Church is not part of the self-service society; quite the contrary. Jesus invites us to become the “Serve One Another” society. And that’s going to be messy. None of us will get things just the way we like it. But none of us is in charge of the Universe, so that’s OK.
Recently, the Gold Group, our parish “family group of families“, came to me with an offer. Could they serve coffee after Sunday Mass once a month? Of course, I said yes. It’s not going to be Starbucks or Costa. You won’t have all the options from Grande thru Superskinny. But it will be a chance for us to get to know each other better. For some months now, we’ve been praying “Invite me, Lord Jesus, to know you better through the people of my parish.” From next month, he will be inviting us to do just that once a month, over a drink in the Hall. So even if it’s not a convenient time, even if it’s not your favourite drink, I invite you tonight to make a decision. Each month, stay and be part of coffee time. More than that, offer to help out, or even to start Saturday evening coffee.
We don’t do a social gathering after Mass just because we enjoy it – we do it because our parish only becomes a strong parish when we network with one another. Moses told the Israelites to come together in one house where two families were too small to eat the Passover on their own. He commanded us to “wash one another’s feet” – but what he meant was we should find ways to serve one another which make sense in our own society. If we gather together, if we serve one another, if we get to know each other better, our parish will become what Christ is calling us to be.
“Copy what I have done,” said Jesus. It didn’t come with options – in fact there is only one option, regular. How regular? Eat this and drink this communion – every Sunday. Coffee after Mass, one Sunday per month. Your priest washing feet at Mass – once per year. So let those chosen for the footwashing come forward now.
Recommended: A TED talk on the perils of too much choice.