“I have done this as an example for you”
Ex 12:1-8, 11-14, 1 Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15
Today is Holy Thursday. We come together this Evening to celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Last Supper. Today officially opens the Easter Triduum in preparation for the commemoration of the glorious Resurrection of our Lord Jesus on Easter Sunday. We come together to recall in our hearts and minds the events that occur on Holy Thursday. One-third of all the events that we have about Jesus’ life occur during this last week in his life.
- THE EVENTS OF HOLY THURSDAY
- a) During this Last Supper, Jesus and His disciples gather together to celebrate the Passover Meal. The Passover Meal commemorates the days when the Jews were in bondage in Egypt, and the event of God freeing them from slavery. (This is the story we read about in the first reading of this evening’s Mass – Ex 12:1-14). “This day shall be a memorial feast for you, which all your generations shall celebrate with pilgrimage to the LORD, as a perpetual institution.” (Ex 12:14). During his celebration of this Passover Meal with his disciples, on the evening of what we have come to call Holy Thursday, towards the end of the meal Jesus takes a loaf of bread breaks it and gives it to his disciples saying: “Take and eat it, this is my body which is broken for you, do this in remembrance of me.” Then he takes a cup with wine; he drinks from it and gives it to his disciples saying: “Drink all of this, for this is my blood which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sin.” Through these words the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is instituted. This is what St. Paul recalls in today’s second reading. (Other accounts are in Matt 26:26, Mk 14:22 and Lk 22:19 also). This is the only sacrifice fully acceptable to the Heavenly Father for the redemption of humankind. By this sacrifice, Jesus, who became one of us, is both priest and victim as he offers himself once and for all for the salvation of the world.
- b) Secondly, during Last Supper, Jesus also instituted the Sacrament of Priesthood, the authority and power to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass or the Holy Eucharist. He said: “Do this in memory of me,” (Luke 22:19, 1Cor 11:24). Jesus instituted the Priesthood because he wants the Memorial of his passion and death to be relived until the end of time, in a non-bloody manner. Furthermore, without the priest as the presider, the offering of the Holy Eucharist is not possible. Therefore, the two Sacraments (the of the Eucharist and that of the Priesthood) are essentially tied together.
- c) Thirdly, Jesus rises from table, removes his outer garment, puts a towel around himself, (Jn 13:4) and washes the feet of his disciples. He consciously performs the task of a slave. But not even slaves during that time were asked to wash another person’s feet, according to most biblical scholars. The slave would bring a basin with water and a towel, but it would be the guest who would wash his/her own feet. And Jesus, the Son of God and their Lord, does the “lower-than-a-slave” job, He washes his disciples’ feet. Jesus purposefully does the feet washing so that the act will make a lasting impression on them. Jesus concludes: “I have given you a model to follow so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” In other words, humble service should characterize all who identify themselves as Christians.
- I HAVE DONE THIS AS AN EXAMPLE
A Sociologist, called Robert Wuthnow, of Princeton University (USA), made a study exploring what it takes for people to make every-day ethical decisions. He found out that many people perform deeds of COMPASSION, SERVICE and MERCY because at some point in their past someone acted with compassion toward them. He wrote, “The caring we receive may touch us so deeply that we feel especially gratified when we are able to pass it on to someone else.” By giving them his example of love and caring, Jesus is empowering the disciples, and all his followers, to do likewise to others.
Jesus washes their feet; and he says, “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” (Jn 13:14). This is the only time in the gospels that Jesus explicitly says, “I HAVE DONE THIS AS AN EXAMPLE.” He asks us to wash each other’s feet. There is a great signification behind it.
- THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE WASHING OF THE FEET
We read from today’s gospel that Jesus fills a basin with water, puts a towel around his waist, and starts washing the feet of his disciples. When Jesus knelt down to wash their feet, all became very quiet, because they felt ashamed, not ashamed of themselves but ashamed for him. He, who was their LORD and MASTER, is doing this! They know that he is not acting out a showpiece, because Jesus only dealt in the truth. And there he was, kneeling before them, washing their feet! He comes to Peter to wash Peter’s feet. Peter looks at him, “You? Wash my feet?” Jesus tells him, “You cannot understand now, you shall understand later.” As it were, he was saying to Peter, “If you do not let me wash your feet, you will never understand who I am; you will never understand why I came; you will never understand your own destiny. It is for this I must wash your feet here and now.” And then he says out loud, “If you do not let me wash your feet, you can have nothing to do with me.”
And, of course, the lovely St. Peter says, “Not only my feet, but my head and my shoulders and my whole body.” Because there is one thing that Peter could not imagine life to be: WITHOUT JESUS.
By washing each other’s feet, Jesus is saying: “Unless you learn to wash each other’s feet, you will never know what true love really is.” By this act, he is telling us a great mystery. Because when we look at Jesus, we look at God. And that is why he came. He is Son of God and Son of man! As Son of God, he is bringing the knowledge and love and understanding of God into human form so that we could grasp it. For Jesus, love means sacrifice; love means, not what you are going to get, but it is measured in what you are going to give. God is a giver and not a taker. He is a lover and not forcing anything upon us. He respects us. He loves us. He understands us. For Jesus came to give himself totally and completely for our healing, our salvation, but, most of all, for understanding that God indeed is love. THAT IS WHAT JESUS WILL DO TOMORROW, ON GOOD FRIDAY. Tomorrow, we will see how far love can go. Jesus will die on a cross. He loved us right to the cross. He, the one who loves, will hang on the cross. It will be as if his Father is saying: “You must teach them how deeply they must love, how they can imitate their own Father.” While on the cross, Jesus prays to his Father, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).
- THE PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS OF JESUS’ ACT OF LOVE
- a) Love is at the centre of Jesus’ action. Today, he is saying, “I want you to exercise your authority in love.” As a good shepherd he gives his life for his sheep. He exercises authority with tenderness and love. He exercises authority in truth and in forgiveness. He is teaching us how he wants us to exercise authority – not from the top of the pedestal, but close to people. He teaches us that authority is exercised by confirming others, calling them forth; empowering them and helping them to grow to freedom in truth.
- b) By washing the feet of the disciples Jesus, teaches us what authority is, using the image of human a body (c.f. 1Cor 12:15). That is why St. Paul, in the first letter to the Corinthians, talks about the Church AS BODY. Where every person is different, and everyone is important. Where the eye is different from the foot and so on. And he goes on to say that those parts of the body which are the least presentable, the weakest, are necessary to the body and should be honored. Paul is saying something about people whom society considers to be lowly — they are necessary to the body of Christ, the Church, and they should be honored. “There are many parts, yet one body.” (1Cor 12:20).
He wants us to discover the Church as Body where each one is important, a place where we are all together as brothers and sisters in the same Body. God is hidden in the weak, and the poor, and the disabled. God is in the Body. He is saying, “be attentive to the littlest, to the weakest, to the poorest, to those who are the most broken; for I am living there.”
- c) Jesus is the servant. (Phil 2:6). In becoming a human being, he humbled himself to the lowest. This is the downward road of Jesus He calls us to walk with him in that downward path. We all know, how difficult it is to exercise authority and power. Either we are too controlling, and we want everything to be in order, thus preventing people, or not permitting them to be empowered. We try in every way just to hold on to things. It is not easy to exercise authority. It is not easy to be parents, for instance. We do not find it easy to help children to gradually come to freedom. It is not easy to hold back from being there just to control them. Everyone one of us here, we exercise power in some way, be it as elder brothers/sisters, parents, teachers, civil servants, group leaders in tribal meetings or church groups, priests, etc. We know that it is not easy to exercise servant leadership. It is not easy to really give ourselves to others, to help each one to rise up, to know when to make decisions. It is difficult. But this is exactly what Jesus is teaching us, today.
- d) Love is at the centre of Jesus’ action. Today, he is saying, “I want you to exercise your authority in love.” As a good shepherd he gives his life for his sheep. He exercises authority with tenderness and love. He exercises authority in truth and in forgiveness. He is teaching us how he wants us to exercise authority – not from the top of the pedestal, but close to people. Confirm them; call them forth; empower them; help them to grow to freedom in truth.
- e) Jesus chose to love. Not some, but all. That is the choice before us. We cannot choose to love only those whom we like, whom we deem deserving, for whom we have good feelings, those who look, think, or act like us. It is all or nothing. If we do not love all, we love none. LOVE, FOR JESUS, IS NOT ABOUT FEELINGS AND EMOTIONS BUT ABOUT A CHOICE. He washed all the feet before him, regardless of where those feet had been to. Jesus does not discriminate. Certainly, he knelt at the feet of Judas; it must have been a particularly moving moment! You see, Judas has already the thirty pieces of silver in his pocket; he has already decided that he will show the guards where Jesus spends the night. (Because you know, they could not arrest Jesus in broad daylight or there would be a revolt.) In spite of this, Jesus sort of tells Judas: “I want you to know that I love you.” And maybe the next day when Judas commits suicide, he remembers those eyes of Jesus. And, maybe then, his own eyes begin to be tearful. He remembers the love.
The first person the disciples will have to choose to love, or not love, is Judas, the one who turns away, the one who walks in the night, the one who betrays. THAT, ALSO, IS OUR FIRST CHOICE. Every one of us has at least one Judas in our life. Every one of us has been a Judas to someone else. Sometimes we have been Judas to ourselves. Jesus tells us, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”. Who is your Judas? (Your spouse, you brother/sister, “best friend”, a colleague at work…?) Whose Judas are you or have you been? Are we ready to love, to forgive those who have hurt us? Are we also ready to reconcile with those who have hurt us, so that we can be worthy to ask God for forgiveness?