HOLY THURSDAY: THROUGH THE PRIESTHOOD, JESUS CLEANS UP OUR MESS
In life, there are things that go so well together that we can’t think about one without thinking about the other. For Americans, mashed potatoes and gravy, peanut butter and jelly. For us Africans, it’s egusi soup and fufu, rice and beans, salt and pepper. But tonight, at a very high level, we celebrate something so inseparably linked that we can’t perform one without the other. It is the mystery of the Holy Eucharist and the sacred priesthood. The Holy Eucharist is what makes the Catholic Church different from all other churches on earth. Without the Eucharist, there is no church. It is the source and summit of our faith. And without the priesthood, there is no Eucharist. One wonders why it has to be the last thing that the Lord celebrated with his disciples before His passion.
The very last words of Jesus after he had washed the disciples’ feet seem most striking:
“Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”
Jesus is conducting a self-emptying act here. It is an act of humility so we will have a model to follow. This washing of the disciples’ feet was a shocking action. Sometimes when we read these accounts in Scripture, we can miss the implications they would have had on first-century people. Peter was scandalized to see his master, the Lord of the universe put on an apron, kneel down before his disciples, and wash their feet. And he exclaimed, “You will never wash my feet.” The washing of feet in the time of Christ was a duty relegated to slaves. It was the lowest duty. Slaves would wash the feet of those entering the household.
This makes sense when we read St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians describing Christ, “Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” Jesus was pouring himself out in total humility, taking the lowest position, the action of a slave. In this action, Jesus was showing the disciples, his newly ordained priests, what their hearts should be.
THE INSTITUTION OF LOVE
This is a lesson to every person and highlights the paradox of the gospel. The concept of a matching gift in the business world is that a charitable donation is offered by a corporation that matches an employee’s donation to an eligible nonprofit organization. Most often it is dollar for dollar. Thousands of companies across the United States (and some companies internationally) offer matching gift programs to their employees as part of a corporate giving philanthropy. The gift is usually available, only needing the other half simply to double it.
Jesus offers himself completely. He is not asking us to do anything in return for him, not as payback because his love is exhaustive, "Jesus loved his own in the world and loved them to the end" (Jn. 13:1). He never stops loving. The master becomes the servant, takes up our sufferings, and accepts to die on the cross. Jesus loves us even when our feet are dirty. He washes them. Even when we smell, he takes the blame for our failures upon himself. He bends so low for us.
All that Jesus requires from us is that we do the same for others. He declares, "I have given you a model to follow. …as I have done for you, you should also do” (Jn.13:15). Jesus makes loving easy. He gives himself to us and matches every act of love we perform.