Homily for Holy Thursday, Year C 2019
We have come here this night to encounter Jesus. First, we encounter Him as The Man who gathers. He calls us from different backgrounds; He brings in people with different personalities and genders. He cast the net into the world and hauled to the shore all sorts of “fish” (people, you and I). The impulsive fish – Peter. The scheming fish – James and John. The tax collector fish – Matthew. The fish without guile – Nathaniel. The traitor fish – Judas.
He gathers! The Perfect One gathers and brings to table the good, the bad, the ugly, the broken, the imperfect, the wounded and even the one who will betray Him. What sort of Man is He? He makes a bold statement; the Kingdom of God is about the in-gathering. It is about reaching out, casting the net as He would often say, and hauling it to shore. The image of hauling is many a time overlooked. But it has depth. It speaks of the exhaustion of the one who casts nets.
But why does He gather us? First, He brings us to the table, and He sits with us in fellowship. Second, He teaches. “He had always loved those who were His in the world, but now he showed how perfect His love was”. So, love is the heart of His message. He gathers us to teach us how to love and love well. To love not only the perfect, those who are good to us and love us, but to love even those who want us dead. He loved Judas. He sat and ate with Judas at the table.
Second, we encounter Jesus, The Man who serves. He doesn’t just say the right things and teach lofty ideas. He practised what He preached. He said, “the Son of Man came to serve not to be served. And if you want to be the greatest you must be the servant of all”. So, He stood up, took the towel and knelt to wash the feet of His own disciples. This was as countercultural then as it is now. Once again, He challenged the status quo, called us to rethink our way of life.
Do I practise what I preach as a priest? Do you live up to the advice you give to others? As parents, can we ourselves do what we ask of our children? As children, are we ready to do what we expect our parents to do for us? As politicians, can we live up to the campaign promises we are making? As citizens, are we living up to our responsibilities? Can we sincerely do what we expect our politicians to do for us? These are the implications of the action of Jesus.
But there is something more. He washed their feet. Feet that have gathered dirt. Feet that were smelling, scarred and some still bleeding from past wounds. He didn’t select what feet to wash. He washed the feet of all at table. Why? Jesus replied, “If I don’t wash you, you can have nothing in common with me”. So, He washed their feet. He gathers us here today, to wash our feet too. He wants us to have something in common with Him, the love that reaches out to all.
This is the hardest part, to love all. For it demands loving those we don’t like. I can’t stop thinking about how Jesus felt sitting at the same table with Judas or even sitting at the same table with Peter, a man who will deny knowing Jesus. But this is the man whose mother-in-law Jesus healed. It would have been understandable if Jesus didn’t know these men would betray and deny Him, but He knew their intentions, still He gathered them. He washed their feet.
And Jesus does the same thing today. He knows us. He knows what we are going to do in the next few minutes. Some of us may betray Him too. Despite what He knows of us, He comes to us. He gathers us. He washes our dirty feet – sinful feet. When He returned to table after washing their feet He asked, “Do you understand what I have done.... You call me Master and Lord… If I, then your Lord and Master have washed your feet, you should wash each other’s feet”.
Third, we encounter Jesus, the Man who gives. He gives us Himself under the appearance of bread and wine. He took bread. He blessed it. He broke it. And He gave it to us. The bread He took, was the bread we brought. The work of human hands. He took us, when He took the bread. Again, He didn’t select. He took what we brought to the table. And He continues to take what we bring to Him. So, don’t be ashamed of yourself. Come to Him. He will take you as you are.
What He takes, He blesses and what He blesses, He breaks. I have often found this part confronting. My seminary Rector Fr. Israel Ekpo once said, “Francis remember this when you celebrate Mass. ‘When you break the bread, be prepared to be broken’”. He breaks us, not to destroy us, but to give us out. Just as He was broken and gave Himself to us. This is what He meant when He said, “If I don’t wash you, you can have nothing in common with me”.
Like Jesus, we are broken by those we love, those whose feet we have washed and with whom we have eaten at the same table. The temptation for many of us is to keep nursing the wounds of our brokenness. However, on this night, we are called to bring our wounds to the Lord. The celebration calls us to look up at the Bronze Serpent as God invited the Israelites to do, to look up at the Broken Body of Jesus, His Blood that will be poured out from the Cross tomorrow.
This is the beauty of Easter Triduum. It is one big celebration – the Paschal Mystery. Holy Thursday opens the celebration with the demonstration of Jesus’ love for us. But it doesn’t end there. The celebration keeps drawing us in, unfolding as we gather the reality and implications of love – happiness and suffering, death and resurrection. Like Christ, let’s give our lives away in acts of love for the good of others – My Body Given Up for you! My Blood poured out for you!
Fr. Francis Afu