13 April 2017

Homily - 13 April 2017 - Holy Thursday - How often do you and I refuse the Lord’s humility?

Thursday of the Lord’s Supper
At the Evening Mass

Dear brothers and sisters,

Near the close of this Thursday of the Lord’s Supper, we encounter two men who refused to obey the Lord Jesus Christ, though both called him “Master” (John 13:6; Matthew 26:49). One of their refusals was grounded in a love of the Master, while the other was not.

We are privileged this evening to enter, as it were, into the Upper Room, to watch and hear what took place on that night during which everything changed. We once again hear Saint Peter refuse to obey the Lord Jesus because of his “fearful reverence” for the one he knows to be “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (cf. John 13:5; Matthew 16:16).[1] Peter’s motivation for refusing the Lord’s intention to wash his feet is perhaps a good one because it is grounded in his love for Jesus, but it is certainly misguided. When Peter said to Jesus, “You will never wash my feet,” it is as if he said to him, “You are doing this for me? You, as Lord, are doing this for me, a servant? You, the Master, are doing this for me, the disciple? You, the Almighty, are doing this for miserable me” (John 13:8)?[2]

Because of his reverential love for the Lord Jesus, it was unthinkable for Peter that “he who is ‘clothed in light as in a robe’ was clad in a cloak (Psalm 104:2).” It was unspeakable that “he who wraps the heavens in clouds wrapped round himself a towel.” It was impossible that “he who pours the water into rivers and pools tipped some water into a basin.” It was unimaginable that “he before whom every knee bends in heaven and on earth and under the earth knelt to wash the feet of his disciples.”[3] Peter thought it beneath the Lord’s dignity to bend so low, “to cast aside the raiment of divine glory and put on the garb of a slave.”[4] Perhaps Peter was right, but love always entails a desire to sacrifice oneself for the beloved; nothing else is love to the end (cf. John 13:1). It is precisely because of the Lord’s love that he knelt at Peter’s feet; it is because of this same love that the Lord Jesus desires to kneel at our feet, as well.

If Peter at first refused the Lord’s will because of his overriding concern for the Lord’s own dignity, it was because Peter was not concerned with himself, but rather with the Lord. For this reason, his refusal soon gave way to obedience as he enthusiastically accepted the Lord’s humility. Peter returned again and again to Jesus merciful love, to confess his sinfulness, and to receive a new washing from the Lord. Peter did so not because he was concerned for himself, but because he knew that by his sins he offended the Lord’s dignity by turning from the one who loved him so deeply. This is why Peter “went out and wept bitterly” when he looked into the eyes of Jesus’ in the midst of his Passion (cf. Luke 22:62).

How often do you and I refuse the Lord’s humility? How often does Jesus desire to kneel down and wash “our dirty feet so that we might be admitted to God’s banquet and be made worthy to take our place at his table – something that on our own we neither could nor would ever be able to do”?[5] How often we do stand up and walk away from him?

Unlike Saint Peter, we do not refuse the Lord’s humility out of a reverence for his dignity and honor; this would at least be admirable. Rather, we refuse his humility because of a concern for our own dignity. Just as it can sometimes be difficult to find willing volunteers for the liturgical rite of the washing of feet because some do not want their feet to be seen or touched by another, it often happens that we refuse to acknowledge our sin to the Lord because we are concerned with our own honor and not with his.

Why do we refuse the Lord’s action of love? Why do we close ourselves off to his grace? Why are we more concerned with our dignity than with his? It is because we have forgotten that

God is not a remote God, too distant or too great to be bothered with our trifles. Since God is great, he can also be concerned with small things. Since he is great, the soul of man, the same man created through eternal love, is no small thing but great, and worthy of God’s love.[6]

Judas the Iscariot refused to obey the Lord’s humble desire because he was absorbed with himself. He sought to make a profit out of one whom he called Master and betrayed the one he called friend. Tonight, if we, like Peter, open our hearts and extend our feet to Jesus, we can experience the depths of his love.

He loved his own – us – to the end and he showed this by giving his life on the Cross. Before he poured out his love for us, he anticipated his death and gave us the means to be constantly joined to his pierced heart, from which flows the fountain of grace and mercy. He gave us the Eucharist so that he might always be with us and that we might always be with him. We have gathered this evening asking of the eternal Father “that we may draw from so great a mystery the fullness of charity and of life.”[7]

Dear brothers and sisters, let us pray tonight that our desire for the Lord’s friendship might be as strong as Peter’s.  Let us pray that our desire for him will be so strong that we will allow the Lord to humble himself to wash our feet.  Let us pray that we will desire his friendship above all else and never refuse his humble love.  Amen.

[1] Saint Bonaventure, Commentary on the Gospel of John, 13.6. Robert J. Karris, trans. (Saint Bonaventure, New York: Franciscan Institute Publications, 2007), 688.
[2] Ibid., 13.7.
[3] Severian of Gabala, Homily on the Washing of Feet. In Thomas C. Oden, et al, eds., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament Vol. IVb: John 11-21 (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 2007), 86.
[4] Benedict XVI, Homily, 13 April 2006.
[5] Benedict XVI, Homily, 13 April 2006.
[6] Benedict XVI, Homily, 13 April 2006.
[7] Collect at the Evening Mass of Thursday of the Lord’s Supper, Roman Missal.

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