Homily for Holy Thursday 2007
Welcome to Holy Thursday celebration, the first of the Triduum. Welcome to Fr Jack. We are privileged to have him working amongst us. Fr Morrie has been in hospital all week. He is home again but is unable to be here tonight. He hopes to join us tomorrow. Holy Thursday is traditionally a Feast when we reflect on the priesthood in the Catholic Church. We remember also the two priest from the Lismore diocese who were killed yesterday in a car accident. And also Kate Zulpo who died as a result of a car accident this week.
It is the Eucharist which has sustained me over the years as a priest. There are many reasons why I could have left the priesthood years ago and many reasons why I have stayed. Living and working with people who are Eucharistic people, who live the Eucharist everyday is the main reason I have stayed. And by Eucharistic people I don't mean that they are praying all day in church. The Scriptures tell us what it means.
"Do this in memory of me." We have been doing it ritually for 2000 years. But Christians have also been living that command every moment of our lives. How to live it is acted out by Jesus in John's Gospel we read tonight. His command is the same: "For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you" (John 13:15).
The Last Supper was the last of many such meals Jesus had during his ministry. It is the last of many meals that earned him the reputation of being a "friend of tax collectors and sinners." What did he do at those other meals? Confining ourselves to St Luke's Gospel we find the following:
At the house of Levi the tax collector, Jesus defends himself and his disciples for associating with such undesirables and sharing a meal with them. It is the sick who need a doctor not the healthy, he says (Luke 5:27-32). That is being Eucharist.
A Pharisee named Simon asked Jesus to eat with him on one occasion (Luke 7:36-50). A woman came in who wept and kissed Jesus' feet. Simon complained about this. Jesus reminded Simon that he had not shown such hospitality to Jesus. He forgives the woman her sins. That is being Eucharist.
Jesus provides a surplus of food for 5000 people and is portrayed as the Lord of Life (Luke 9:10-17) before whom we bow in adoration. That is being Eucharist.
Later in Luke (10:38-42), Martha and Mary offer hospitality to Jesus and he challenges them to centre their lives on him, the one thing necessary. That is being Eucharist.
Jesus again, at the house of a Pharisee for a meal, admonishes the religious leaders for seeking the places of honour at dinners and not being willing to share with those in need (Luke 14:1-24). That is being Eucharist.
Then there is the wonderful story of Zacchaeus to whose house Jesus invites himself (Luke 19:1-10). Zacchaeus is a rich chief tax collector who gives half his property to the poor in reparation for his sin.
That is being Eucharist.
In all those incidents Jesus caused wonder and controversy. He was living as he died - for others. This last meal is no exception. A most intimate occasion, this Passover Meal in John, reflects what had already happened in his life and looks forward to what will come on Good Friday and Easter.
Jesus washed his disciples feet. He has not changed his mind about that. He is still prepared to get his hands dirty. Though sometimes like Peter we think it is beneath his dignity to do so. As though he would be upset if a child plays up at Mass.
When you think about his disciples you would not blame him if he threw his arms in the air and gave up. I certainly have been tempted to do just that many times. Such as a small mindedness religiosity you find at times that masquerades as faith. Not so Jesus. Judas betrayed him. Peter denied him and obstructed him on occasion. Others argued about who was the greatest. They all misunderstood him. Yet he insisted in washing all of their feet! He still insists that we do it too.
His disciples have not changed much over the years. We still have our arguments. We still deny him. Some even betray him. We all do our share of obstructing his mission. Some parish priests have been known to give up in despair. Some in the Church think it has gone to the dogs. But I think that it is just at such moments, if we are faithful in washing feet, that we will find a deeper faith. A faith which is not about me. But about God and God's love for all.
It is just when things seem at their most hopeless that Jesus seems to be saying: wash one another's feet. If you cannot do it them when things look grim you can have no part of him.
Why did he give us the Eucharist? Why could he not, if he is the Son of God, have a more personal presence we could see and touch? Because that would be to miss the point. It is not about him. He does not want to be like some pagan god who demands his pound of flesh to appease his anger. It is about us being changed so that we can wash feet. So we can love as he has loved us.
He gives himself to us. He gives himself, his body and blood, to us as food to share, to emphasise the point. He is broken for us that his life may be shared. The cross stands before us portraying the ultimate price of that gift.