Holy Thursday 2022

Fr. Abbot Brendan Coffey OSB

“The hour has come,” Jesus rises from the table, removes his outer garment, fills a basin with water and begins to wash the feet of his disciples. This is lost on us, until we realise that it was a great courtesy in the ancient world for a slave to meet people at the door and wash their feet. After this washing the lord of the house would come out and put perfume on their hair to make them feel truly welcome. It was a lovely gesture.

The only trouble here is that when Jesus knelt down to wash the disciples’ feet everyone in the room became very quiet, because they felt ashamed. Their Lord and master is doing this and they know that he’s not acting, because Jesus only dealt in truth. And there he was, kneeling before them, washing their feet.

And so Peter says, “You’re not going to wash my feet.” “If I cannot wash your feet, you can have nothing to do with me” said Jesus. Why would Jesus say something like that? He was saying, “If you do not let me wash your feet, you will never understand who I am, you will never understand why I came, you will never understand your own destiny.”

Jesus teaches us, you either love or you do not love, and, if you love, you wash feet. We either live in the history of this world or we’re not really living at all. If we think that we can measure everything, that we can control everything, that we can do all things without an aura of mystery in our lives, we’re deluded. The world is a messy place, where lots of jarring notes are found, war, famine, injustice; the great mystery, life, confounds us. Washing feet helps makes sense of it all. How can we ever hope to make sense of something as awful as the war in Ukraine without it? How are we to react to something like this as Christians, without this example from Jesus at the Last Supper? Only in the realm of mystery is it possible to find answers and adequate responses to so many of life’s most difficult challenges.

An itinerant preacher who has nothing to give, understands and teaches us that we have nothing to give. Our money is not important. Speaking fine words is not important. Social standing, or power, are not important. The only important thing is that we are learning how to love. This is the beginning of the mystery of Holy Week. For it is love that is the secret of wisdom. And the one who loves, understands truth. And the one who loves, understands the meaning of things. Without this fundamental example from our Lord and Master we would have no response to give to the most pressing problems of life. “I have given you an example”, we need to pay attention.

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