Maundy Thursday April 2014
(Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14; 1st. Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-15)
The disciples, even though their time with Jesus was coming to its end, were still far from perfect in their following of Him and apparently -- according to St. Luke -- they had just been quarrelling about who was the greatest among them. It would seem that, for the Supper, Judas Iscariot had taken the highest position to the left of Our Lord around the table while John who, as we know leant back on the breast of Jesus to ask Him a personal question, would have been reclining on Our Lord’s right. Peter meanwhile, having taken to heart Jesus’ words chiding them for their lack of humility had, typically, responded whole-heartedly and taken the lowest place opposite John. In that way Peter was able to speak directly to John telling him to ask Jesus whom He had in mind when He said that one of them was to betray Him. This arrangement also explains how Judas could ask Jesus “Lord, not me surely” and Jesus could answer him affirmatively without any of the other disciples hearing His words.
In the Gospel reading we heard how Jesus washed the feet of His disciples, exemplifying the humility He wanted to teach them. He would seem to have begun with Peter seated in the lowest place. Peter’s loving impetuosity, however, would not allow him to see Jesus thus humbled before him:
"No," said Peter, "You shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with Me."
Why was this washing of the disciple’s feet so important? Obviously, it was of symbolic importance: “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me” were Jesus’ stern words. He then went on to explain:
A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.
“And you are clean” Jesus had said, but still the feet had to be washed, or else Peter could have no share with Him.
How had the disciples, apart from Judas Iscariot, been made clean? We learn that from Jesus Himself when He went on to say to them (John 15:3):
You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.
Clean already in mind and heart by the receiving and believing the truth of Jesus. That faith, however, had to be translated into works:
I am the true vine, and My Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in Me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to My Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples. (John 15:1-8)
We can perhaps recognize a reference to Judas in the branch that is thrown away and then left to wither before being thrown into the fire. On the other hand, those who remained true to Jesus, treasuring and believing the words He had spoken to them, would now have to let those words bring forth fruit in their lives. That is why their feet had to be washed, even though they were clean in mind and heart.
We can think of the words of a modern hymn: “Walk with me, oh my Lord, through the darkest night and brightest day, be at my side o Lord, hold my hand and guide me on my way.” There we describe the course of our lives, the way we respond to all of life’s circumstances, the aims we set for ourselves, as a walking with the Lord. So it is with the disciples whose feet Jesus must wash if they are to have a share with Him in the Kingdom of God which is now beginning and will ultimately triumph. What they have received from Him is meant to make them the light of the world and the salt of the earth; their light must shine because it has to enlighten the whole of God’s house:
You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)
In this movingly memorable scene Jesus gives His disciples (that includes you and me!) strong teaching to match His strong words to Peter: teaching which not only tells us but also warns us that to have heart and mind washed clean in Christ is not enough if the feet are not daily consecrated by sincere endeavours to walk further along His way and in His service. That is not all, however, for by so humbly and lovingly washing their feet Jesus indelibly prints on their minds the manner in which they must serve Him: wherever they walk and in all that they do they must seek always to give humble service to each other and to their neighbour. Such an attitude will first of all establish unity among the disciples, above all among these future apostles. No more arguing about who might be the greatest, they must all be willing to humbly serve each other; and then serve with each other the greater good of the flock of Jesus which He has chosen them to lead (Ephesians 4:3):
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
Never again would these chosen ones who had seen their Lord and Master humble Himself by washing their feet allow personal pride to detract from their apostolic witness to Jesus; on this St. Paul most insistent in his teaching for the churches he established:
There is one body and one Spirit-- just as you were called to one hope when you were called -- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, Who is over all and through all and in all.
We are all called, People of God, to be apostles of Christ, each in our degree. The teaching and the example so lovingly given by the Lord are for all of us. Let us, therefore, aspire more and more to walk along the paths of the Lord in the power of His Spirit: let us not try to kid ourselves into thinking that nice thoughts about Jesus and the Church are enough. We have to bring forth fruit for the Father’s glory by seriously trying to serve Jesus by doing His work with His attitude: finding strength from our unity in the faith of Mother Church and cherishing the joy of true charity in our parish and personal life.