Holy Thursday: A Community of Equals

Holy Thursday: A Community of Equals

BY FR. JAMES MARTIN, S.J. | April 6, 2023
Today’s Readings

One of the best books for understanding the Gospel of John is called Written That You May Believe, by the New Testament scholar Sandra Schneiders. And her passage on today’s Gospel changed how I looked at Jesus’ washing the disciples’ feet. It’s a familiar scene, often depicted in art, most notably in Ford Madox Brown’s pre-Raphaelite masterpiece.

Holy Thursday: A Community of Equals

Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet by Ford Madox Brown (1852–6)

When we see depictions like this, we usually recall Jesus’ example of “humble service.” After all, Jesus is God’s humility personified. God humbled himself by taking on “human likeness,” as St. Paul says of Jesus, and by participating in everyday life. But Jesus goes further. He accepts death on a cross and, earlier, he washes his disciples’ feet—something that usually only servants did.

But Schneiders suggests that what bothered St. Peter was not the “humble service,” but that Jesus was erasing the distinctions between master and servant, inaugurating a community of equals. Jesus is “subverting in principle all structures of dominance” and providing Peter—and us—with a new model for community.

I see this in my own life over and over. A few years ago, I wrote a book called Building a Bridge, on LGBTQ Catholics. After it was published, an LGBTQ parish group challenged me on a few parts that they felt were inaccurate. Specifically, the lanes in the “bridge” were not even, since it was the institutional church that had marginalized them, not the other way around. Initially, I was defensive. But after a few minutes of conversation, I realized, “Wait a minute. Who am I? They know more about this than I do!”

Often, we bristle at threats to our authority. But once we see that the church is a community of equals it’s easier to put our egos behind us, work together, and help to build the reign of God. 

For Reflection: 

  • How are you being led to do the prophetic work of creating a community of equals by both challenging authority and, most importantly, allowing yourself to BE challenged in your own authority? 


8 replies
  1. Greg Immethun
    Greg Immethun says:

    “Jesus is “subverting in principle all structures of dominance” and providing Peter—and us—with a new model for community.”
    In theory this is true, but the structure of our church is still saturated with dominance and power structures to try to control us. I understand is being slowly dismantled, but not nearly fast enough. Stuff like mandatory Sunday mass or mortal sin and closed communion do not reflect equals but rather a control system to force us to be good. The punitive nature of the whole structure needs to be dismantled if we are to be a church of equals.

  2. Dr.Cajetan Coelho
    Dr.Cajetan Coelho says:

    We are all distinguished fellow mortals journeying to our cherished destination with a one way ticket firmly in one’s pocket. In the eyes of the Divine Maker, we are all blessed with a time-bound mission – says a brother in the Lord.

  3. Elsie C Romano
    Elsie C Romano says:

    I just finished reading “A White Catholic’s Guide to Racism and Privilege”: by Daniel P. Horan, O.F.M. Our predominantly white parish is forming a group which studies racism and racial justice issues. Talk about an eye-opener! Yes, we have much to do to dismantle ALL SORTS OF INJUSTICES IN OUR CHURCH. Let’s get started.

  4. Jennifer Greene
    Jennifer Greene says:

    I am so glad you highlighted Sandra Schneiders in your reflection. For years I have taught high school-aged women with one of her articles on Mary Magdalene and encouraged the students to reach out to her about the article. Sandra Schneiders responded back to every one of my students who wrote her with deliberate, thoughtful and encouraging letters specific to each letter. I was blown away! I am deeply grateful for her work.

  5. Bob
    Bob says:

    What an interesting reflection on the “washing the feet” Gospel of John but anytime I read about a book etc. that captures the “true” nature of the Gospel, it is usually written by an individual or group that has suffered differently than the rest of us allowing them to hear God’s whisper “we” cannot hear. How many people are there? The Holy Spirit can speak to each and every one in the language of their need. Fantastic! Happy Easter.

  6. Judy michalek
    Judy michalek says:

    Thank you, Jim ( I left off “Father” because of Jesus’ example to eliminate dominance, 🤣🤣😉), for once again sharing your wisdom and grace-filled Presence with us. How wonderful it will be when we learn to be a Church of equals….ridding ourselves of a patriarchal structure ( vs. inclusiveness), an emphasis on sin (vs. the goodness of humans), and rules and regulations (vs. following an informed conscience). You are a beacon of Hope for all of us!

  7. sonja
    sonja says:

    A church of equals will arise when we treat all children as equals and respect what they have to say.
    Some churches claim to do that, yet from a child’s perspective, all adults are authority figures and some abuse their power over others.
    Equality means treating everyone with dignity and respect including children.

  8. jovita
    jovita says:

    This is such a profound message. I will be forever thinking of the Washing of the Feet in a different way. What a great example of equality and treating others with dignity. Jesus was definitely teaching us to put the dignity of others first and foremost.
    I see the chasm between equality and dignity, where many who believe they are supporting equality, do not treat and measure up to giving that dignity to the individual. This is especially seen in the way the poor and homeless are treated.
    Thank you for this.


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