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Homily for Holy Thursday
April 9, 2009
by Deacon John Ashmore


I was talking to Al Garrato about liturgies and he said that he likes Holy Thursday because everyone’s here not out of obligation but because they want to be here. So, I said, “Does that mean I can talk longer?” And Father Brian said, “absolutely not” so we’ll keep it to the regular length of time.

I think we’ve all experienced someone coming up to us and saying, “Wow! Have you read this book, it’s fantastic.” Or, “Wow! Have you seen this movie that I just saw? You’ve got to see it.” That’s a typical human reaction, one we all share. We want to share things that impress us and excite us with other folks.

Well, believe it or not, I think the Bible has more than it’s share of these Wow moments. Admittedly there is some tedious stuff in there as well. Stuff that is a little hard to read; somewhat hard to understand but on the whole, I would suggest there are more Wow moments in the Bible than tedious ones. Think about it, God created the universe, everything in it, including us, and he created us in his image and likeness. Wow! That’s big. God led his people out of bondage in Egypt in no ordinary fashion; he parted the Red Sea and then when they got to the other side, after a little bit of wandering around in the desert he gave the Ten Commandments. Wow! That is big. That’s not a small thing.

God, in the person of his son, Jesus Christ, decided to become one of us, to live with us and to experience our humanity. And then, when Jesus was here he worked miracles. He cured the sick and he brought the dead back to life. Wow! Those are all Wow! types of experiences.

Well, tonight’s Gospel reading is one of those Wow moments for me. Jesus, the anointed one, the incarnate God, has just washed the feet of his apostles. This is a very rich gospel and one line in the text really grabs me every time I read it. It’s when Jesus looks at his apostles and says, “Do you realize what I have done for you?”—just like the song said.

I see this question as a challenge to me and to my Christian identity. Jesus asks questions all through the gospel. But, most often, they are rhetorical questions. They set up opportunities for Jesus to teach the listeners. When he asks, “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye but you do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?” He wasn’t looking for the answer, He knew the answer. He was setting up an opportunity to teach them, to teach them about life and about themselves.

Today’s gospel is very different though. Jesus has once again done what no one would expect him to do. But this time it is deeply personal to each and every one of the apostles. And Jesus looked at the whole group after He had washed their feet and He said, “Do you realize what I have done for you?” I wonder what was going through their minds. Peter, who would deny even knowing Jesus a mere few hours later—he must have wondered what this question was leading to because his experience showed him the questions always led to something.

James and John left their nets to follow Jesus when He said, “Come, I will make you fishers of men.” What did they hear in Jesus questions? What struck them about it? Did they suddenly flash back to all of the teachings and all of the miracles they had witnessed? Now Matthew, he was another case. He left everything and followed Him when Jesus spoke two words: “follow me.” Just two words and Matthew obeyed. What was his thinking now? Gosh, I left a good career and now He’s washed my feet. Did I make the right decision; am I in the right spot? Or, maybe that was Thomas who became famous for his doubting ways after the resurrection. What did Jesus words say to Thomas and to Matthew? And finally, Judas Iscariot, what was going through his mind? Was he suddenly terrified of what he had already done? Was he in denial, thinking that “ah, somehow things are going to work out,” in spite of the conspiracy between me and the elders and the chief priests? Or did he think, “There He goes again—if He had just been the right kind of Messiah, everything would have worked out fine; this is all His faults anyway.” Was that what was in Judas’ mind? What about the rest of the twelve? More importantly for us, what do each of us hear and experience when Jesus asks, “Do you realize what I have done for you?”

Now in the modern age it’s very easy to misunderstand what Jesus did. We have to look at it in context. He washed their feet. Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God had just washed their feet. What is so “Wow!” about that? It was common practice at the time for guests and visitors to have their feet washed after they had traveled along dusty roads to visit friends. But remember, the foot washing was not done by the host. The foot washing was done by the slave. The foot washing was done by one who could not refuse to do it. But trust me; no one aspired to be the slave to wash the feet of his master and his master’s friends. That was not a highly coveted position.

In what He did, Jesus assumed the position of a slave but He did so lovingly and He did so with great purpose. Jesus didn’t just wake up and find himself washing their feet. He did it deliberately. And as in everything else that He had done or what He was about to do in the next few hours He took this moment to teach them and to teach us. The next thing that Jesus said was the lesson. He told them and us that the true sign of discipleship is our willingness to lovingly be the slave of the other: “As I have done for you, you should also do.”

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to be first he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” In washing their feet Jesus taught them the true meaning of genuine discipleship. In a few short hours He was going to become the ultimate slave, the lowest of the low, the one rejected by nearly all of humanity. And that really is the model of discipleship. If we wish to follow Jesus we must go beyond a stated willingness to pick up the cross; we must completely desire it and embrace it. In this moment of challenge, is this not one of those Wows! Moments in the Bible? And, what does it say to each of us?

We here at Christ the King, we do so many things right and we do so many right things. We contribute our time and our talent and our treasure for the common good. We can’t name all of our ministries but our parish is blessed and it blesses the world around us by involving so many in such a vast array of ministries. We feed the poor, we educate the young, and the not so young, and we stand up for the rights of the unborn and the underprivileged. We invest resources to promote the spiritual development of individuals and the community. We do so many things right but tonight our Lord calls us to do even more. Jesus said, “Do you realize what I have done for you?”—those were his words. What He said in his action—the action of washing their feet—was this: “I have called you to be the slave of one another, to give everyone more than your possessions, you are to give your very self to everyone you meet. I have called you to empty yourself of yourself so I can live within you. If you do this, you will be first. If you do this, you will be my disciple. You will create that next Wow moment in the lives of those you know and those who are complete strangers and to help you on your way, I will be with you always; alive in your hearts and in the hearts of all you meet and in the Eucharist.”

Wow! Do we realize what Jesus has done for us?