We have two homilies by Father Hanly for Holy Thursday, Year B. We have a recording and transcript for each homily.
We Are All The Precious Children of God
In this very beautiful and moving homily for Holy Thursday, Year B, Father Hanly talks about how precious each one of us is in the eyes of God.
First Reading: Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 116:12-13, 15-16, 17-18
Second Reading: First Corinthians 11:23-26
Gospel: John 13:1-15
Tonight we begin the Triduum, the three most important days in the liturgical year of the church.
Tonight we celebrate a more happy event.
It is the Passover, the Last Supper, and Jesus is gathered together with his disciples, and he is there to tell them how much he loves them, how much he cares for them, and also how he must leave them. And so the great joy of gathering around the great feast of the Passover is tinged with sorrow.
And then you would think at celebration of this mass of The Last Supper, that the gospel would be about the institution, about the institution of the Eucharist. And yet we have this very strange kind of beginning.
Jesus, having told his disciples how much longed to be with them, he takes off his outer garment and he goes to the outside, really, and he brings in the bowl with which the servants wash the feet of those who come to the banquet. You know they come a long distance and they’re all very important people and it’s a very important feast, but there has to be someone who’s going to wash their feet before they enter the household of the host. And this job is given to the lowest of the lowest slave.
And Jesus comes back with the water and he kneels down in front of each of them and he begins to wash their feet.
And he comes to St. Peter and a pin could drop through the whole dining hall. And Peter, as we know, is an impetuous man and he sees his Lord and master degrading himself in this way and he says to him, “You’re not going to wash my feet.”
And then Jesus says something even more strange. He says to them, he says, “Peter, if you do not let me wash your feet, you will never know who I am. You can have nothing, nothing to do with me, because you will never understand.”
And then Peter, as usual with his ups and downs, he cries out, “Not only, not only my feet, but my head and my shoulders and my arms and my whole self” because if there’s one thing that Peter knows, he does not want to lose the love he feels for this person who has changed his life.
And then Jesus proceeds, one after the other, washing their feet, drying their feet.
And finally he goes back, puts on his garment, and he says to them, “Do you know what I have done to you?”
And of course they don’t. And they’re quite silent.
He said, “You call me Lord and master, and that’s what I am. I am your Lord and I am your master, but I have washed your feet.” And then there is a great pause and he says, “I do this because you will never know who I am until you wash each other’s feet.”
This is the meaning of the Eucharist. This is the meaning of why he, the Son of God, came down to share our humanity, that we might share in an understanding of the great dignity that God has given us and the great gift that he continues to give us each day.
It seems like, from one point of view, that what Jesus is doing is playing a game or making a parable by what he does. How can the Son of God kneel down in front of these men who in a very, very short time will all run away from him when he needs them most. One will betray him, others will deny him three times, their leader. When he says to the little lady who says, “You’re one of them” he says, and he curses and he swears, “I have never known this man.” And Jesus knows that this is all going to happen.
Why and what does it mean? When he kneels down what does Jesus see?
He sees the humanity of all of them, and he loves them in a human way. But he also sees the presence of God. He knows that each one has been formed individually, particularly, out of the greatness and glory of God. And each one is worthy of respect because, not for what he is, but what he has become when God created him in His own image and His own likeness.
And what Jesus is really doing is telling the truth of who they really are. They are not, even in the most remote way, even near an understanding of the greatness of being the children, the sons and daughters, those made in the image of a loving Father.
And it is Jesus who pays homage at this time. And that’s why he says, “If you cannot see in me, and what I do here, and why I do it, you cannot be my disciple.” Because what he is saying is, a disciple, in response to the love of God, serves other people.
Do you remember when Jesus was in Jericho, Zacchaeus, the little tax collector, was running up and down trying to see Jesus who had come to town and he was very well known at the time, and he was such a small little fellow that the only thing he could do was climb a tree and look down at Jesus as he passed.
And it must have been quite funny because he was the richest man in town and the most hated man in town because he was a tax collector and everybody knew tax collectors were terribly dishonest and they took way high above the tax demanded by the Romans and demanded by the officials. And that’s how they made their money. And so he was scorned by everyone, but dressed to the nines.
And then Jesus looks up and he says to him, “Zacchaeus, come down, because today I’m going to be in your house.”
What did Jesus see in Zacchaeus, the renegade, the one who was not even allowed to pray in the temple? What did he see in Zacchaeus that he would dine with him?
Many years later, there’s an old saying that Zacchaeus, they said to Zacchaeus (by this time he was a disciple of Jesus) and they said to him, “Zacchaeus, what did you want to see when you climbed the tree?” And they expected him to say, “Well, I wanted to see Jesus,” and he said this, “I wanted to see what Jesus saw when he looked at Zacchaeus.”
It’s the same story. Each and every one of us, no matter what we have done, or how we behave, or what we do with the treasures that God gives us — use them well or use them poorly — we are indeed the precious children of God. And our dignity and our feeling and the great gifts that God gives us, we must first recognize in ourselves.
About a week ago, I was going through the sacristy looking for a candle and I wanted a special candle because we were having this ceremony tonight.
And I pulled out, with the help of Ah Keung, I pulled out this very filthy little candelabra. It was really dull. And I looked at it and I said, “Oh, this is a poor place to put a candle. I think this is no bargain.”
Anyhow, Ah Keung gave me a little bit of silver polish, so I went up to my room and I began to wipe the black away from it. And it took me three towels, and the towels were filthy, I just threw them in the garbage. And finally what emerged was this beautiful shining silver candelabra.
And I said to myself how like this is what Jesus was trying to tell his disciples. You’re not fishermen. You’re not just ordinary people. Because when I look at you, I see what you really are. I look to the depths of your heart. I know when you weep and I know when you laugh. And I know the storm about your life. I know the troubles you have and I know your ambitions.
And this is what not they must understand, he’s sending them out now to look at other people the way he looks at them.
The teaching, then, of tonight’s gospel is that we must, as Jesus once said to his disciples and to the people of his time, “You have eyes to see, but you’re blind; you have ears to hear, but you’re deaf; you have hearts to love, but you don’t.” And because of that, the great mystery in each other is lost.
What Jesus is saying to them is when you learn how to serve, you will learn how to live; and when you learn to love others, you will understand what love is; and when you learn to give happiness and joy to people, you will understand what it means to be happy and full of joy.
We have two pictures tonight to show you. The one behind is the Last Supper. The Last Supper is God Himself sharing his love with his disciples; it is Jesus now teaching them the secret of God.
The secret of God is in the back of the church and we see Jesus washing the feet of Peter.
And the lesson of course is this: Jesus washes feet, God washes feet, and until we learn to wash feet, to serve others, no conditions, no counting the cost, but to learn to serve others, then we will know that it is God who washes our feet and it is God’s Son who dies on a cross for us.
And the real meaning of it all is will we ever learn to love as Jesus loves, will we ever realize that we’re surrounded by the great mystery and love of God who is with us all our days.
And the way we understand it is by turning to each other and saying, “Let me help you, let me serve you, let me take care of you.”
This is the lesson of tonight, it’s the lesson of tomorrow, and it’s the lesson of new life, for Jesus says, “He who gives his life away, will have life in abundance.”
Why Did Jesus Wash His Disciples’ Feet?
Why did Jesus wash his disciples’ feet? In his homily for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Year B, Father Hanly shows us how, by kneeling to wash the feet of his disciples, Jesus is saying, “I want you to know how important you are, how good you are, how you gleam with the wonder of God who creates you and loves you and cares for you and sends His only Son to kneel before you and tell you, no matter what you feel, no matter what others feel, you are a child of God, an heir of heaven, a beautiful person.”
First Reading: Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 116:12-13, 15-16, 17-18
Second Reading: First Corinthians 11:23-26
Gospel: John 13:1-15
This is a very strange Gospel. I’m sure you must already feel how strange it is.
Now, the Passover is a great feast, a happy feast, especially this Passover at the time that Jesus brings his disciples together, because they’re celebrating something.
And what they’re celebrating, of course, is four hundred years of terrible slavery under the Egyptian heels and God Himself had freed them.
And so it is that, all the way down through the ages, a good Jew would long to celebrate the Passover, as they do today. And if you go to one of the Passover meals, if you’re invited to one of the Passover meals which are very much closed to family, you will feel kind of an inner loveliness that people sit down and celebrate and have a banquet over something that happened maybe four thousand years ago. And they celebrate it as if it’s still happening, and, of course, it is.
But Jesus does something very strange. Instead of inviting everybody in and saying a few words, he goes outside, really, and he takes the dirty water and the clean water that is used for washing the feet of guests, you see.
As you know, in that part of the world, very dusty, so if you’re walking part of the time through the dust, you come into a banquet, you need your feet – only your feet of course – to be washed. The rest of you is clean.
Anyhow, Jesus takes off this garment. He lines them all up and he begins to kneel down in front of them and begins to wash their feet.
The only people who washed feet in those days were the lowest of the lowest slaves. And this is not lost on the disciples, especially Peter who is already outraged that this is happening, that the man he loves and admires, the heart and soul of his own present, and hope against hope for a future, comes before him, puts down his jar of water, kneels down in front of him, picks up the jar of water, pours it into the basin and washes his feet.
And, of course, he says, Peter who is such a lovely character said, “You’re not washing my feet. You’ll never wash my feet.” And he gets very angry and he’s dancing around a bit.
And Jesus looks at him and smiles, and he says, “Peter, if you don’t let me wash your feet you will never know who I am, and if you never know who I am you will never know who you are, because I’m at the centre of what you believe in.”
Now, he doesn’t say it in those words, he just says to him, “Peter, if I cannot wash your feet, you will never know me.”
And so Peter, being such a wonderful follower, he jumps and he says, “Not only my feet, but my head and my hands and my whole body.” Because the one thing that Peter did not want to lose was the love he had for Jesus.
And that is why the Last Supper is a love feast.
Why does Jesus do this? Is he putting on an act?
The first thing you think is, well he’s putting on a show. He’s the humble man and he’s the one that does the miracles and he is the famous one, and so it’s maybe just a kind of a parable in motion.
It’s not enough. It’s enough for us to put on parables in motion, tell stories, all of that. It’s another thing for the Son of God to kneel down in front of someone, Peter, who he knows will deny him three times in three short days, you see.
There’s something else, and that something else is something we should think about. And what is it we should think about?
Jesus does nothing just out of the passing moment. He means what he says.
And what do you kneel down in front of?
You kneel down in front of somebody that you respect and that you pay him honour – that’s what you kneel down in front of.
And this is what Jesus is doing. He is saying, “Peter, for all your jumps and all your backs and forth, I want you to know that I see something in you that you can’t even dream of. I see what God has made. And God only makes good and God only makes wonders and God does not make garbage.
“And when I kneel before you, I want you to know how important you are, how good you are, how you gleam with the wonder of God who creates you and loves you and cares for you and sends His only Son to kneel before you and tell you, no matter what you feel, no matter what others feel, you are a child of God, an heir of heaven, a beautiful person.”
And this is what Peter cannot accept. He can’t accept it.
And yet that is what Jesus is saying. And he goes from disciple to disciple washing their feet, not putting on a show, but as a sign that they are of such great wonder in the universe that God’s Son himself pays due honour to these twelve men who can’t even begin to believe what is happening.
This is something that we ourselves have to think about.
I use an example, every now and then, which means a lot to me, but it’s about seeing things, you see, do you see what I see, sort of.
And I think of just a few weeks earlier, Jesus was leading his little group up through a very difficult area, Jericho. The road from Jericho to Jerusalem was maybe a few hours, or a day at the most, a short road but filled with dangers because that’s where the robbers and thieves used to waylay people.
Anyhow they were going to Jerusalem, and Jesus knew at this time that he was dying.
But something else happened. There was a little man, Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus, he was the tax collector for Jericho, a very rich man.
Now a tax collector is somebody who really goes to the Romans and says, “I want to be a tax collector.” That means “I will go and collect your taxes and you pay me.”
And they say to him, “Zacchaeus, what you do is you find all the people in this part of Jericho and you take all the money you want out of them. And we want $30,000 from that group and anything you make after that, don’t worry, you can keep it all. And if anybody protests I will send Roman soldiers down and they will make sure that everybody pays as much as they… “
Well, this man is the most hated man in Jericho. And he’s Jewish. That means he betrays them to the Romans. Nobody would go near him. And yet he was the richest man in Jericho.
And the poor little guy, because he was small, he couldn’t see Jesus. And he wanted to see Jesus because he’d heard so much about Jesus and he wanted to see him.
So what he did was, very cleverly, he ran down in front in the street, climbed up a tree and hung from the top of the tree down, looking at Jesus as he was passing by.
And Jesus is walking by and he looks up and he looks at Zacchaeus and he says, “Zacchaeus, come down. Today I must eat in your house.”
Well, this is incredible. This is the worst person. No asking him to do some wonderful deed of virtue, no asking him to be sorry for his way of life, he just looks up at the little man who wanted so much to see him.
And he’s looking down, and what does he see?
He sees Jesus smiling at him and saying, “Come down.” Of all the people in Jericho, “I want to eat in your house tonight.”
So they go to the house. And Zacchaeus, he’s so happy, he’s dancing around. And he says…
The other people are outside, because nobody goes near someone like Zacchaeus, none of the good Jewish people.
And he recognises, he says, “Lord, if there’s anybody in this whole city that I have cheated, I want them to come to me and I will pay them five-fold, fifty-fold of what they have lost.”
And this is kind of not just bragging, but he is actually going to do that. And he says, “If there is anyone that I have wronged, I will right it.”
And Jesus looks at him and he says, “Zacchaeus, healing has come to this house. Salvation has come to this house.”
Now, what has this got to do with the Gospel?
It has everything to do with the Gospel. Because what Zacchaeus sees in Jesus is someone who will heal him, will save him and will make him whole again, and it doesn’t matter how he came there or what he has done or what his history is.
And then Zacchaeus says in his heart, “I wonder what he sees in me, that I see in him?”
And, of course, Jesus sees Zacchaeus through right to the centre of his heart, and Jesus says, he doesn’t say but in a way he does say, in a very strong way he does say, he says, “I see you as you really are. And I am going to show you who you really are, because I am going to make you one of my members and we will walk together, and you will learn who you are. And you will no longer see yourself as a crummy little tax collector. You will no longer look upon yourself as someone not worth anybody’s time. But you have power and money and meaning, and it’s going to all dissolve before you.”
Because Zacchaeus will see, in the eyes of Jesus, what Jesus sees in Zacchaeus.
This is the beginning of Holy Week. It is a time for all of us to look upon ourselves with great wonder and great thanksgiving. We were created to know him, to love him, to serve him, to walk with him.
We were created to walk with him so that together we could create a better world, a kinder world, a world of forgiving people, a world of caring people, a world where there’s no such thing as selfishness anymore, where all of these…
Is it possible?
If Zacchaeus could do it, we all can do it.
The meaning of Holy Week is not that we are holy. The meaning of Holy Week is it is an opportunity to come and see Jesus, today, tomorrow and the next day, as he leads us through fear and into glory. He leads us and he knows that we indeed will love him and follow him all the days of his life, even to the end of time.
So have a nice Easter.
The story of Easter is a story of love. It is God so loved the world, He sent Jesus. Jesus so loves us that he brings us closer to the Father and into a whole new world.
It is all about love. It is all about (if you look in the back there) Jesus washing, Jesus is washing people’s feet so that they may understand that they are holy to God, loved by God, and they are born to live with God and to be happy with each other for all the days of their life.
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Information about Father Hanly’s homilies for Holy Thursday, Year B
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If you would like to use our transcripts of either of these sermons (updated 2019), please contact us for permission.
Father Hanly's sermon for Holy Thursday, Year B, "We Are All The Precious Children of God" was delivered on 9th April 2009. Father Hanly's sermon for Holy Thursday, Year B, "Why Did Jesus Wash His Disciples’ Feet?" was delivered on 5th April 2012. It is sometimes hard to accurately transcribe Father Hanly's reflections, so please let us know if you think we have made a mistake in any of our transcripts, and let us have your suggestions.
We hope that Father Hanly’s homilies, always kind, always wise, always full of love, will restore you to peace and harmony through a new understanding of what is important in this world. We believe these homilies are inspiring for everyone, not only for Roman Catholics or other Christians.