The Hour Has Come
In this beautiful homily for Holy Thursday, Year A, Father Hanly helps us understand the Last Supper and what “the hour has come” actually means.
Readings for Holy Thursday, Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Year A
- 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
It is mentioned in John’s gospel, “the hour has come.” We think it means Jesus being arrested, being nailed to the cross, dying, but it doesn’t. “The hour has come,” means for John’s gospel, now is the time the whole world has been waiting for, for now begins the great mystery. And the great mystery is not death. The great mystery is life and that is what Jesus comes to bring us: new life.
And how is Jesus going to show his disciples who he is, why he came, or what must be done. Endless questions!
Jesus has but one response. He gets up from the table. He has already told the disciples that it is with great love that he has brought them together this evening. And it’s true. For everything about Jesus is about love. He takes off his outer-garment, fills a basin with fresh water, and he begins to wash the feet of his disciples.
A great silence covers the room… the disciples are confused and ashamed, not personally but ashamed for their Lord and Master, kneeling before them, washing their feet, a task that is given only to the humblest and most ignorant of slaves. Peter was shocked and he said to Jesus, in frustration and in anger, “Lord, You’re not going to wash my feet!”
And then Jesus said to Peter these very strange words, he said, “If I cannot wash your feet, you can have nothing to do with me.”
Why would he say something like that?
He was saying, “If you do not let me do this, you will never understand who I really am. You will never understand why I have come into this world. You will never understand your own true purpose and destiny in life.”
And of course, the lovely Peter says, “Lord, not only my feet but my head and my shoulders and my whole body.”
Why this sudden change? Again, Love, of course. Peter couldn’t imagine having to live out his life without the love of his Lord and Master, Jesus.
What does it mean to wash feet? Was Jesus playacting? Was He pretending to be the humble saint to please everyone?
No, he was revealing a great mystery because when we look at Jesus, we are looking at God, and that’s why he came, the Son of God and Son of man, to bring the knowledge and love and understanding of God into human form so that we could grasp it.
And the great thing that he was trying to teach them was, you either love or you don’t love, and if you love, you learn to wash feet.
For Jesus, love means sacrifice; love means, not what you’re going to get out of life, but what you’re going to put into it. God is a giver and not a taker. Jesus came to offer himself totally and completely for our healing, our salvation, but most of all for our understanding that God indeed is love.
This is the beginning of the wonderful mystery of Holy Week. It begins with this poor, itinerant preacher who has nothing to give, who understands and teaches us that we also have nothing to give. Our money is not important. Our ideas are not important. The only thing important is that we are learning how to love, and we are learning how to love the way Jesus knows we must learn how to love our enemies if we are going to ever understand who we are and where we’re going.
For it is this kind of love that holds the secret of wisdom, and one who loves like Jesus also understands truth. And one who loves as Jesus loves understands the meaning of life itself.
Today is the first of three special holy days. Tomorrow, we will see how far love will go. Is there anything that you can refuse to give? Jesus dies on the cross. Jesus, the one who loves, is on the cross, and it is as if his Father had told him, “You must teach them how deeply they must love… how they can emulate God the Father.”
There, on the cross, everything is taken from Jesus. His own people turn away, his disciples run and hide. People scorn him and say ugly things of him as if he was the worst person that ever lived instead of the best person who ever lived.
And there he is on the cross and his Father looks down at this Son with tears, to see His Son so maltreated, and yet He doesn’t intervene. He just waits in silence but not without tears.
And finally, Jesus looks up and he says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Not words of despair, but the beginning of a prayer from the Book of Psalms.
Then Jesus looks up to heaven says to his Father: “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” And all of a sudden, we realise that it is in the forgiveness of each other that we are healed and saved. His Father reaches down and lifts up his Son into a new life, a whole new world.
Two lessons to be learned: Two paintings on the wall – one behind me of The Last Supper, and the other behind you, “The Washing of the Feet.”
The one behind me is a love feast and Jesus is telling his disciples, that he will be with them all days even to the end of time. And he takes the bread, saying, “This is my body which is given up for you.” And then the chalice: “This is my blood, poured out for you and the many for the forgiveness of sins.”
And then the painting at the rear of the hall is that of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. And, of course, this is the whole truth of life and it’s the whole truth of the message of God which is, if we want to live, we must learn to die to our selfishness and to love one another as he has loved us. And how do we love each other? By washing each other’s feet. Do you remember what Jesus taught us? Unless you learn to wash each other’s feet, you’ll never know what true love really is.
And so with great joy, we celebrate tonight this most happy Holy Thursday. We celebrate the fact that he comes to us in this very special way and will continue to be with us in this very special way, as long as we invite him in. And we will begin to understand more and more the great graciousness of God Himself, for God is a giver and when we learn how to give as He gives, we are touching God.