Holy Thursday - Yr B - 2015
“Master, are you going to wash my feet?”
“You will never wash my feet!”
This Mass of the Lord’s Supper is rich with meaning, ripe with blessings and packed full of gifts to talk about. But above them all I hear the voice of Peter ringing in my ears, ‘Jesus, you will never wash my feet. I am creature, you are Creator. I am slave, you are Master. I am poor and sinful and imperfect, You are Divine and Holy and Perfection. If there is service to be done, if there is homage to be paid, I must do this for you!’
We relate to that, don’t we? Thinking we’ve understood who Jesus is and who we are in relation to God – the idea of Jesus serving us in such a lowly way is preposterous. Lord Jesus – it is I who must serve You! You cannot serve me!’
But our reaction shows we’re as confused as Peter! The Lord of the Universe, the Word of God through whom all things were made, had already emptied Himself completely, taking on the form of a slave. Stooping to wash human feet is nothing compared emptying Himself of glory to become one of us. Are we to reject that? Protest that?
Just as Peter had no clear understanding of what Jesus was about to do all those lifetimes ago, I think we sometimes lack an understanding of what we are about to celebrate together in these most Holy Days. Tying the towel around the waist is not all that spectacular compared to the humiliation of being judged and mutilated and executed at the hands of the people He himself had created.
Peter’s protest is a rejection of the extent of Christ’s love for humanity already present in the Incarnation and soon to be made fully and perfectly clear on the cross. But we’re right there with Peter in misunderstanding most of the time. Whatever keeps us from the confessional ultimately boils down to Peter’s confusion. Whatever locks us into attending Mass out of a sense of obligation and duty ultimately boils down to Peter’s confusion. Whatever keeps us from serving the poor and outcast, loving one another, accepting and caring for one another the way Christ asks us to ultimately boils down to Peter’s confusion.
How is it possible that God could love us enough to humble himself so completely as to become a servant to us? “Lord, you will never wash my feet,” is a way of saying, “Lord – there’s no way you can love me as much as that.”
It is when I begin to see Peter’s faulty thinking – and my own – that I begin to understand the lesson Jesus teaches us tonight before we can receive what He gives us in the Eucharist; I begin to understand why we need to be reminded of this lesson before we can stand at the foot of that Old Rugged Cross tomorrow; before we can run full force, tears streaming from our eyes and our hearts aflutter with anticipation toward the empty tomb of Easter.
Do you see? Jesus wanted Peter – Jesus wants us – to see that He really does love us enough to stoop completely down to our level, even lower, so that we might look clearly, directly into His loving eyes brother to brother, not servant to Master; so that we might look back, broken hearted and begin to give God the fullness and perfection of worship and work and relationship that is an overwhelming response of love to love – something far beyond what is due Him, something much more pure, more free, more profound.
Peter’s rejection of Christ’s humility is a response of JUSTICE. That is what is DUE Him. The Prince of Heaven did not need empty himself to live and die for that kind of response! That would have been His for all eternity without the need for God to do anything.
But to invite us to run with our whole being, our whole lives, our whole mind and heart full speed into the loving arms of God every moment for the rest of our lives – that can only happen as a response to LOVE! Jesus came to win more for God than justice – only His amazing LOVE can turn us also to the rest of our brothers and sisters in humanity, to love them just as wholly, just as completely, just as ridiculously. That’s the honor and glory and worship our God desires – that’s what our Lord’s humility and obedience and LOVE invites!
What Jesus did for us that night was love us beyond any possible loving so that when we truly see and understand and accept such a wonderful love there is only one response, and that is to love in return. And He showed us what it means to love like that. It means to empty ourselves completely, tie the towel around our own waist, and serve others – love others – just as profoundly, just as completely, just as humbly. Why? So that they, too, having been loved beyond imagining; so that they too, having been touched by the love of the Savior through us; so that they too, having been so divinely loved might do the only possible thing one can do in response so such powerful love: love God and others in return.
“Master, are you going to wash my feet?”
Brothers and sisters, here we are – on the threshold of all that matters in eternity. Here we are, on the brink of what changes everything in human history. Here we are, gathered around that table where the first Eucharist was celebrated. Do you see why Jesus ties the towel around his waist to wash our feet? Do you understand why you and I must learn the lesson Peter and the apostles learned that night? Why we must accept the enormity of Christ’s love before we can truly receive the gift of the Eucharist? Only in seeing, accepting, believing, and welcoming Christ’s willing humility before us can love burst our heart open enough that we will love in response!
The only way to see the reality of the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus actually present for us in these little pieces of bread and this cup of cheap wine; the only way to ‘get’ what is about to happen on this altar; is to first really see how totally and completely the Lord Jesus LOVES us – emptying Himself for our sake – taking the form of a slave – washing the dirt and grime and stench of our fallen humanity like a lowly slave – and humbling himself to the point of death – even death on a cross.
Oh my brothers and sisters, see – open your eyes and your heart tonight and see – see so great a LOVE, learn the lesson that Peter had to learn, see the love of Jesus for the amazing inconceivable reality that it is, so that you might be blown over beyond any ability to make sense of it and become so totally heartbroken at such love poured out for you that you cannot stand it but to live life loving God and His children in response.