March 24, 2005 - Year A - Maundy Thursday
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
13 • 1 It was before the feast of the Passover. Jesus realized that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father, and as he had loved those who were his own in the world, he would love them with perfect love.
• 2 They were at supper and the devil had already put into the mind of Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had entrusted all things to him, and as he had come from God, he was going to God. 4 So he got up from table, removed his garment and taking a towel, wrapped it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel he was wearing.
6 When he came to Simon Peter, Simon said to him, “Why, Lord, you want to wash my feet!” 7 Jesus said, “What I am doing you cannot understand now, but afterwards you will understand it.” 8 Peter replied, “You shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you can have no part with me.” 9 Then Simon Peter said, “Lord, wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head!”
10 Jesus replied, “Whoever has taken a bath does not need to wash (except the feet), for he is clean all over. You are clean, though not all of you.” 11 Jesus knew who was to betray him; because of this he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12 When Jesus had finished washing their feet, he put on his garment again, went back to the table and said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Master and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I, then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you also must wash one another’s feet. 15 I have just given you an example that as I have done, you also may do.
16 Truly, I say to you, the servant is not greater than his master, nor is the messenger greater than he who sent him. 17 Understand this, and blessed are you if you put it into practice.
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31 . . . Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. 32 God will glorify him, and he will glorify him very soon.
• 33 My children, I am with you for only a little while; you will look for me, but, as I already told the Jews, so now I tell you: where I am going you cannot come. 34 Now I give you a new commandment: love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
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• 13.1 Here begins the second half of John’s Gospel.
In the first half, through signs and discourses Jesus foretold the work he was going to accomplish in the world and the glory that would be given him after he would be “raised on high.” Now Jesus’ hour has come, in which he will realize all that was announced.
The second half begins with the farewell discourses of Jesus at the Last Supper.
Just as in the previous chapters each of Jesus’ discourses begins with a miracle, the farewell discourses narrated in chapters 14-17 have, as a point of departure, the extraordinary act of the “washing of the feet.” This gesture contains two lessons:
the need to purify ourselves before participating in the Supper of the Lord.
how the commitment of love is to be put into practice.
• 2. THE PENITENTIAL RITE
John does not narrate the institution of the Eucharist, but the Washing of the Feet and what follows (vv. 26-30) may be seen as an obscure allusion to the Eucharist.
He began to wash their feet. The poor among the Jews walked barefoot while the rest wore sandals. A traditional gesture of welcome was to order a servant to wash the feet of the traveler (see Gen 18:4). The apostles did not have servants, but that night Jesus chose to be their servant.
Jesus did not intend merely to make the apostles clean and comfortable. His washing of their feet was a sacred act that symbolized purifying them just as baptism does. The apostles were already in the grace of God: the word of Jesus that they received with faith had purified them (15:3). They needed more preparation, however, before sharing the bread of life at the table of their Lord. All religions observe some preparatory or purification rites before offering sacred things to their members. Jews, for example, observed purification rites before participating in the Passover meal.
Jesus was no less demanding: he himself washed the feet of his apostles. He did not ask them to confess their sins; all he wanted was that they would humbly allow him, their Lord, to wash their feet.
This act reminds us at once of the sacraments of Baptism and Penance. There, bonds of humility and mercy are forged both for the one who purifies and for those purified. Henceforth the apostles will do what their Lord did before them, since he will send them in his name to forgive sins. They are not to act as hierarchical officials or judges granting pardon to sinners but to take the first step in humility and mercy, in order to likewise purify those who approach the Supper of the Lord.
The word Lord appears seven times in this chapter. With this in mind we understand that by washing the feet of his apostles Jesus performed a significant act which shows us, in a most surprising way, who our Lord and God is, and how he acts.
• 33. CHRISTIAN LOVE
I give you a new commandment. That is to say, a commandment appropriate for the advent of a new era. The Old Testament spoke of interior fidelity to God and love of neighbor, but this message often remained hidden among the complexities of the Law. Besides, there are many ways of loving: even a fanatically religious person can claim to be loving God. In the New Testament Jesus says that love of God is the highest law. The example given by the Lord during his earthly life reminds us of the way to love.
Love that is like God’s aims at liberating our neighbor and enabling her to fully develop her God-given gifts. Love like the Lord’s helps the neighbor become what God wishes her to be, by passing through death to resurrection.
Moreover, when we go deeper into the mystery of divine love revealed to us through Jesus, our love becomes merged with the eternal love of God that alone, in the end, shall permeate all we do. True love comes from God and makes us return to unity within God.
Time and again, Jesus points out the unique importance of Christian love. Later, his Apostles (e.g., 1 Jn 4:7 ff.) and the Church would sum up his teaching on love: Love of God is shown through love of our neighbor, love of our neighbor depends on love of God. What is it really to love God? The great saints and mystics of the Church tell us that love of God is not “to feel God,” to feel devotion or affection for God. Christian love lies not in sentiment or feelings (though on some occasions we might feel affection or devotion, which is helpful); to love God is to be determined to do what God wishes at each moment of our lives. What God wishes of us regarding our neighbor is that we render loving service and forgiveness.
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1. Little equations can be helpful. [ Knowing God = Serving Others ]. This was true for Jesus. This is true for us. To the extent that we find one side of the equation reading [ Serving Others - Except for Some ] we will necessarily need to affirm that the other side turns out to be [ Knowing God - Except for Some ]. Of course, as long as the equation is in balance this way we can fool ourselves into thinking that [ Knowing God = Serving Others - Except for Some ]. Perhaps it is time for a refresher course in God Math.
2. At least one significant picture is that Jesus served Judas as well as he served Peter. Jesus washed them both the same. Another way of saying "=" is "nonetheless". Knowing God I will Nonetheless Serve Others (even the Judas in my life). Here we run into that great choice: "I have just given you an example that as I have done, you also may do." This is our opportunity to practice God Math. We may choose to be clear about our equation of life, our search for meaning larger than ourselves.
We may choose to listen to this challenge: "Now I give you a new way of living together: serve one another. Just as I have served you, you also must serve one another. By this everyone will know that you are my compatriots, if you serve one another." I pray we may.
3. Here is another equation. Love of Neighbor depends on our Love of God and in equal measure our Love of God depends on our Love of Neighbor. This is at one and the same time deeply true and unprovable. It can only be lived. May your service give evidence of your forgiving and your being forgiven.
And so we raise a Toast: To God - To One Another - To Neighbor - To Betrayers - To Life. Forgiven and Forgiving. Flesh and Bone: Bread and Cup. Forward.
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