A Cycle – Holy Thursday 20
Jn. 13:1 – 15
With the current pandemic as a backdrop we find ourselves in the same place the disciples found themselves on the night before his passion and death. John’s gospel leaves no doubt that the disciples were confused, conflicted and never understood much of what was going on from the moment they entered the upper room to the arrest of Jesus.
The evening began with something more than just a ritual washing of their hands, Jesus begins to wash their feet. Peter, uncomfortable with this act of Jesus, questions why Jesus would do such a thing. The response of Jesus to Peter’s hesitancy has significant meaning for us as he said, “…you do not understand now but you will later and if you do not allow it you will have no inheritance with me (Jn. 13:8). I would like to remind you again the scriptures were written for us. God revealing his plans and desires for us and they give us a clarity on how we are to respond to God.
Since Jesus is not here to wash our feet, how can we interpret this passage and respond to its message? I believe there is a companion passage that may help us understand this saying of Jesus beyond pointing us to the call to servant hood. That companion passage is again given to us by John in the book of Revelations. In this vision John describes a vast multitude standing before the Lamb of God in their white robes giving glory to God when one of the elders asks him who are those people wearing white robes and where did they come from. John has no answer except to say to the elder “…he is the one who knows.” The elder replies “…these are the ones…who have washed their white robes in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:13-14).
This night is all about us and the interaction with the disciples is one big lesson showing us our humanity and how easily we can resist the promise of “the inheritance” of becoming sons and daughters of God. Unless we allow the saving act of Jesus to be more than words, we will never allow that act to have the impact on us God intended. Pay attention to the words of Jesus as he says, “Allow it.” We are to make a deliberate act of saying yes, to Jesus. Once we make that step the rest will follow; we will grow in discipleship. If you read the account of that night in John’s gospel, chapters 13 through 17, you will discover how Jesus will guide each of us to grasp the meaning and purpose of our lives and how we are equipped for holiness by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
This evening points to the cross and Jesus knows the disciples did not understand what was coming and after the meal is eaten, Jess reminds them of the promise of God to send the Spirit who will teach them and reveal all things to them. In many ways this evening shows us how clueless we are in our attempts to be holy men and women. Jesus reminds us of the promise of God to send the Holy Spirit to change our hearts. Holiness is not something we acquire through our effort. Oh yes, we can perform holy acts, pious acts and religious acts but holiness is a gift God does within us by changing our hearts. Without the Holy Spirit our attempts to be holy are self-directed and will make us feel good about ourselves but are a hindrance to us loving God with our hearts, minds, strength and soul.
Think about the disciples for a minute. They were constantly in the presence of Jesus for three years. They listened to him, questioned him, ate with him, listened to him pray, watched him perform miracles, heard him challenge the Pharisees strict adherence to the law and yet they failed to understand what the Messiah came to accomplish. They remained that way until Pentecost. What more proof do we need. Their failure to understand shows us how easy we can be deceived by believing “righteous living” is the way to holiness. When we believe that, our faith becomes one where we are our own savior measured by strict adherence to things, we believe make us holy.
Jesus washing feet is more than a symbolic call to servant hood, it points to a greater reality the cleansing power of the cross. In Jesus, before they left the room said, “…unless he goes the Spirit will not come (Jn. 16:7). God’s plan was for the guilt of our sins to be paid by the death of Jesus Christ and to send the Spirit to removes all that blocks us from abandoning our self-control of our spiritual lives. It is the Holy Spirit who will lead us to surrender to God’s plan for our holiness and where we finally understand our call to “allow Jesus to accomplish the freeing and cleansing act of salvation.
Of all the masses throughout the year my favorite is Holy Thursday. It is filled with symbols, sights and sounds moving us to worship. At the same time all we do this evening directs us to focus on the sights, sounds and symbols. The presenting of the Holy Oils, the washing of feet, the procession of the Eucharist from the prominence of the tabernacle to some other place, adoration during the night hours, the stripping of the altar, all draw our minds to reflect on those things. We can easily get caught up with the pageantry and only focus on the sacramental life and miss the life offered to us by allowing the grace of God to change our hearts.
Let us this Holy Thursday avoid the temptation to be like Peter and deny Christ access to change us. Let us allow ourselves to be cleansed by the grace of salvation and allow the action of the Spirit to open our minds to understand and our hearts to respond to the life we are gifted to live.