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Jim McDermottApril 06, 2023
Rome, Italy: on the foreground, the priest is holding the host in the hands. On the background, stained-glass window in the church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme built between the 3rd and the 4rd c.. The current look of the church was made in the 18th c.Photo by PaoloGuetano on iStock.

A Reflection for Holy Thursday

Find today’s readings here.

I always feel a certain discomfort hearing the Holy Thursday story, maybe even a certain repellence. To touch another person’s feet, I don’t know…it seems at one and the same time both really gross and way too intimate.

Peter clearly feels just the same. In the Gospel today he insists that his master should not be reduced to washing people’s feet. And Jesus uses the occasion to help the disciples realize (again) that, in the Kingdom of God, discipleship is defined by one’s willingness to serve others rather than insist they serve you.

In a sense the whole exercise seems designed by Jesus to get the disciples to see that they are not yet there when it comes to following his example. And by extension, neither are we. How many stories have I read in the last year of Catholics lashing out against the pope, one another, or other groups, like L.G.B.T.+ people, especially members of the transgender community? Who among us is taking the time to be of service to them, to wash those disciples’ feet? If our authority is a function of the quality of our discipleship, truly, who among us can claim legitimacy?

On Holy Thursday we’re reminded that our fundamental call as Christians is not to get lost within our egos and our intra-church or -parish conflicts, but to venture out beyond the pews.

Observations like this can come off as shrill and get our defenses up. But as we learn again and again during the Triduum, Jesus does not condemn us for our sins. Instead his ministry brings our shortcomings to the surface so we can see them—and so we can change.

There’s another element to all this, something that Jesus doesn’t explicitly mention. At the Last Supper, Jesus is preparing to set out on a journey. And the disciples are, too, though they do not know it yet. Really, this is the beginning of the journey of the rest of their lives: to bring God’s message to the world. Maybe Jesus’ gesture is intended not just as a symbol of service but a blessing for them on their way.

On Holy Thursday we’re reminded that our fundamental call as Christians is not to get lost within our egos and our intra-church or -parish conflicts, but to venture out beyond the pews. A whole world is out there waiting for us, filled with beauty and pain, majesty and mystery. And as disciples we are meant to wander in its broken places and let it crack open our stony hearts, that we might learn how to be a source of life and hope for all.

More: Scripture

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