Holy Thursday reflections
9 April 2020
On Holy Thursday we begin the most sacred three days of our Christian calendar which in Latin is called the Triduum. The celebration on Holy Thursday focuses on two things which are the institution of the Eucharist and the washing of feet. At the Institution of the Eucharist, Jesus took the bread and wine and said, “this is my body”, “this is my blood”. By these words we, as Catholics, believe that the bread and wine we offer at Mass truly become the real Body and Blood of Jesus.
Set within the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist is the washing of feet. Although the washing of feet is an act of a servant or slave, it becomes Jesus’ self-gift and final act of love to wash and dry our feet that we may be able to join him at his table of love.
Jesus’ love is expressed in the Gospel when it said that Jesus “had always loved those who were his in the world, but now he showed how perfect his love was”. He loved “those who were his own” refers to the group of disciples. Jesus truly loved his disciples even though one of “those who were his own” would betray him and another deny him. In the betrayal and denial, we see two human responses to the love of God.
We see the first response in Judas. We are told, “the devil had already put it into the mind of Judas Iscariot son of Simon, to betray him”. God’s plan is manifested in Jesus’ love to the end which is his total self-giving of himself and his life on the cross. God’s plan and Jesus’ love of the disciple (those who were his own) clash with the design of the devil that one of these would betray him.
Thus, Judas did not object to have his feet washed as he was already drawn to betrayal. Judas’ betrayal, however, was not the last. Betrayal will continue in the church where people will continue to take “his bread” and betray him. From Judas onwards, the Lord has taken upon himself all the betrayals in the church which will continue until the end of time.
The second human response is in Peter. Peter objected to his feet to be washed by Jesus, “you shall never wash my feet”. His objection was based on his understanding of the relationship between Master and disciple and on his image of the Messiah, whom he recognised in Jesus. His resistance also demonstrated his perception that God is God and Jesus must not lower himself or practice humility. His perception, desire and heroism will eventually lead to his denial. He failed to understand what Jesus was doing to him even though Jesus had told him that “later he will understand”.
An example of what he failed to understand in the feet washing was the words of Jesus that unless he is washed, he “can have nothing in common” with him. To have something in common with Jesus may refer to Baptism through which a person enters into the life-giving love relationship with Jesus. Peter has no knowledge of all this yet at that time. Therefore, Peter had to learn how to accept to have his feet washed, to wait, persevere and to learn the way of a disciple which is to be led by the Master, even though he will deny the Master three times.
In the feet washing, Jesus showed his total and unending love for his disciples – a love that can love ignorant disciples and even love the disciples who will betray him. In celebrating Holy Thursday, we ask ourselves the same question Jesus asked of his disciples, “do you understand what I have done to you?” In answering this question, a hint was given to us in the instruction of Jesus, “if I, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you”. The key words are “you should wash each other’s feet” and “copy what I have done to you”.
Christ has given us an example to follow. The disciples had witnessed the feet washing and have taken part in it. They, in their turn, are to repeat what he has done for them which is to repeat Jesus’ example of total love for all symbolised in the foot-washing. This means that the disciples learn to put on the values of Jesus to know, to love and to act.
To know is to recognise our relationship with God and with others which is expressed in love and action. I like to use the example of a family to demonstrate this. Under the MCO when we are confined to ourselves as a family, we recognise each other’s role in the family as grandparents, parents, children or grandchildren. Within this family unit, the things we do together in these few weeks were done not just by a sense of duty and responsibility but underlying it is love. That knowledge of who we are and the love for each other are expressed in big and small things we do as a family – the cooking, cleaning, washing, in play and entertainment, etc.
While it is true that to know, love and act are intermingled, the basic fact that knowledge is expressed in love and action remains. In the same manner, the same truths of knowing, loving and action are to be applied in the wider context of the church and the community. The challenge then is to know, love and act as Jesus did which is to give ourselves totally to the other. This becomes more challenging when we are to love and wash the feet of those who will betray or deny us. What do we do then?
Let us pray then that just as the knowledge and love of Jesus flowed into action, our knowledge and love of who Jesus is may also flow into action.
gloria et laus
Fr Patrick Heng
Blessed Sacrament Church, BDC, Kuching