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Holy Thursday

Holy Thursday

March 28, 2024

In John’s gospel Jesus bends down two times.  The first is the scene with the woman caught in adultery (Jn 8:1-11).   In this encounter with the upholders of the law Jesus bends down contemplating, listening.  And then the Word of life, of healing, of truth emerges as he suffers their challenge.  The bending down into the silence sheds light on their wicked intention; Jesus sees that they seek to trap him so they can build accusations against him.  He meets their wicked act with the word of truth, a word that cuts through to their wicked intent: “Whoever has not sinned throw the first stone.”  Hopefully this poignant word melts their hearts into forgiveness as they leave, one by one, because that is the intent of Jesus, forgiveness, mercy.  He is not putting them down or humiliating them.  Rather he is calling them to the ‘new wine’ of the gospel.  Clearly the woman caught in adultery has received the new wine of forgiveness, of mercy and compassion.

The second scene when Jesus bends down is our gospel for this Holy Thursday: the washing of the feet of his disciples (Jn 13:1-15).  Have we ever considered that Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples before his death is a ‘gesture born from nobility of heart’.  Pope Francis says: “And with this celebration today, Jesus wants to teach us this: the nobility of the heart” (Homily, April 6, 2023).  Bending down into ‘nobility of heart’, into a humility of inner strength.  There the power of God is received: the power of love.  Nobility of heart and humility go together; they bring us into that divine encounter where we are given the possibility to see as God sees, where we see with a heart of truth and compassion.  Nobility of heart: roles and titles are not important.  The hidden drive for power, I know it better or I can do it better, complaining that this work is beneath me or is meaningless, such attitudes are far from nobility of heart. “I came not to be served but to serve” (Mk 10:45).  “Although his state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself” (Phil 2:6-7). 

The foot washing in John’s gospel happens just before Jesus’ death…it is John’s eucharist.  Fr. Hans Ur von Balthasar wrote: “The gospel is not about the institution of the Eucharist; rather it concentrates on Jesus’ inner attitude of self-giving to Church and world.  It does this through the gripping scene in which he washes feet” (Light of the Word, p.64).  Jesus’ inner attitude: purity of intention, self-less in giving his will over to the will of his Abba.  Remember he already knows in his heart that someone will betray him and even other disciples like Peter will disown him at his final hour.  The washing of the feet ritual, like the Eucharist, expresses the meaning of ‘loving them to the end’.  I bow down to meet you in your woundedness…I do not condemn you…your sins are forgiven; you are loved to the end…Jesus is ready to go the whole way for the sake of Love…God’s unconditional love.  Are we ready to walk his Way, his Truth, his Life?  For love to have the last word, for love to transform evil, for love to transform those negative, hopeless attitudes, I offer myself to the end, for whatever is asked of me.  Jesus died for us…are we ready to follow him with his same attitude?  There is no life without suffering, and without suffering the self-knowledge that reflects our interior attitude, in any given moment, especially when it is critical, inflated by its thoughts, or in the throes of negativity.

As I was reflecting, it occurred to me that when we each fall into that place where we are critical and negative, where in our attitudes, we ‘lord it over’ another, we are at the center, not God.  Our faith has receded, and we give power to the negative.  Jesus reverses human logic: God’s ways are not our ways.  When Peter will not accept that the Way involves suffering, that his Teacher will die on a cross what does Jesus say?  He rebukes Peter, he is not soft and gentle with his words: “Get behind me Satan for your ways are not God’s ways” (Mk 8:23).  Can we hear Jesus challenging and rebuking us: your thoughts are not God’s thoughts, your ways not God’s ways?  When we are off the path in our thinking and perceiving, how do we re-find our way?  It is only a return to the One who has loved us first and is waiting to forgive us…waiting for us to make that turn, to bring our hubris, our inflation down to the ground of humility, to nobility of heart, where we hear Jesus speaking again: ‘I do not condemn you but beware of those despairing, negative thoughts’.  In Jesus the cross becomes the gateway to Life and Love.  Blessing to the end…..grace to the end…mercy to the end….not without the cross, not without suffering.

The ’bending down’ of Jesus is a profound metaphor.  We heard from Lamentations at our common prayer these words: “To sit in silence and solitude. To put your mouth to the dust…perhaps there is still hope” (3:28-29).  ‘Put your mouth to the dust’, another moving image…Go into the silence of the heart…have faith…God’s word will speak…God’s thoughts will be revealed, and God’s ways will become known.  The gesture of bending down, of putting my mouth first to the dust, challenges and purifies our hubris, transforms our hurt reactions, shifts the heart’s focus from ‘me’ to God.  Walking with Jesus during these final days into his crucifixion, death, and resurrection are asking of us full surrender, surrender to the will of God, surrender so that God’s grace can accomplish its transformative victory over the powers of darkness within us and beyond.  Imagine with the act of surrender, of giving our will over to the will of God, salvation, the Easter life of redemptive love will ripple forth in our midst and into our world.

Sr. Kathy DeVico, Abbess

Chapter Talk – Holy Thursday – March 28, 2024 – cycle-B


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