servingWhen you are plunged into icy waters, the lessons are clear, straight-forward and brutal.

When a Korean ferry boat tragically capsized sharply this week, the top deck of the ship was no longer up. Like a scene from the Poseidon Adventure, I can only imagine the chaos and the fear as over 400 Korean teens looked death and doom square in the face. As a former high school teacher I can picture the scene all too clearly – the panic, the fright and the fight for life. But at some point in that chaos, apparently, the kids did a decidedly teenage thing to do. They started texting. The texts, if they are accurate and real, (more on that later) are heartbreaking and enlightening, an insight into what really matters.

“Mom, in case I don’t get a chance to speak to you…I love you,”
“If I wronged any of you / Forgive me / Love you guys.”

As I mentioned, there is some question as to whether these are hoaxes, (which, if they are sends this story into a whole new level of evil), but I got a feeling that these two texts adequately sum up what a lot of those young people were thinking and feeling. I doubt if they would have texted about the myriad of pointless things that teens often fret and text over. In an extreme situation, life gets pared down to the basics, the essentials, the fundamentals. In that desperate situation, shallowness and superficiality evaporate. The fluff is gone, we focus on what really matters.

In our gospel, John’s version of the Last Supper, Jesus realizes that he is coming to the end. He knows the powers that be are out to get him. He knows that Judas has set the plot into motions. He knows that time is short. The boat, in a sense, has flipped. And now he wants his disciples to know what is really most vital, what is really most important, what is really essential to his message.

John’s discourse tells us that this Last Supper was not about pious platitudes, the inconsequential, the insignificant or fluff.

And so Jesus does that which is least expected and yet that which is most central to his message, most central to his life, most central to what is about to transpire upon the hill of Calvary in a couple of hours. He will show that washing each others’ feet, service, giving of yourself in love is not only important, but it is the centerpiece, the focus, the heart of his message. If you want to know what is MOST important to Jesus, pay attention to his “text” in John:

“Do you realize what I have done for you?
You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am.
If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet,
you ought to wash one another’s feet.
I have given you a model to follow,
so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

Two quick things about this.
Jesus is reminding us that service and love for others is not just a nice thing that we do, it is THE thing that we do. This is SO central to all we are called to be as disciples, that each and every week, in imitation of that first Holy Thursday evening, we gather together and celebrate this obligation, this command of love.

The second thing we need to keep in mind that everything else in our faith, all the things we obsess over, all the things that we worry about, all the things that we cling to with the tenacity of an enraged pit bull, are merely minor, lesser, secondary to the Mandatum, the command to love one another as Jesus has loved us. We Christians, we Catholics get ourselves into a lot of trouble when we focus on the petty at the expense of that which is truly valuable and vital.

In a few minutes you will have the chance to commit yourself symbolically to that journey of service, that one command that Jesus has asked us to do in his memory. Let it be an opening of our hearts to what is truly and really real.

On this night we remember those poor children on that ferry boat, who taught us the crucial lesson of perspective. Every single thing that Jesus teaches us is in second place when compared to the command to serve, to do what he has done.

It is a hard lesson we learn from the icy waters off the coast of Korea.