Fr. Paul Deutsch, SJ
Holy Thursday Homily

Gospel: John 13:1-15

In this Mass of the Lord’s Supper, there are multiple currents in the stream of tonight’s liturgy:

  • The overall story of the Lord’s Passion continues forward, opening to the Good Friday Passion tomorrow. In a sober symbolism, the altar is stripped at the end of the Mass this evening.
  • Jesus institutes the Eucharist as his ongoing gift to his disciples
  • Linked with the institution of the Eucharist is the re-dedication by priests to their holy service at the Altar.
  • Profound memory in the Church of the example of Jesus washing the feet of the Apostles.

There at two deep emotions that I wish to which I wish to draw attention in this homily: Peter’s resistance to allowing Jesus to wash his feet and Judas’s rejection of Jesus.

Striking is Peter’s emotional response that this is not right when Jesus kneels before him to wash his feet. One can feel the reaction of Peter to pull back in protest. Here is our own truth that the closer we draw to Jesus, the stronger our own revulsion towards ourselves - we know we need to be cleansed. But we cannot cleanse ourselves. Purity is solely a gift from God.

God takes the initiative. Jesus kneels. It is not our achievement. It is not within our power. Graciousness offers to us to be clean. In this offer, Faith wells up in us. A spring of grace waters us and purifies us. We are like the Samaritan woman at the well, when Jesus says to her, if you only knew the gift of God, you would have asked to be given living water. Jesus says: “the water that I shall give will become within you a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

I want to give my heart to Jesus. I want this spring of water to rise up in my stubborn will and cleanse me. In our memorial Mass tonight we commemorate that Jesus yearns to give his love to us, to feed us and draw us to the Father.

And yet, my heart can be so stubborn. I want to do things myself. I want to stand on my own 2 feet. I want independence so that I can accomplish and of the fruit of my labor I can give back to God – the gift of my accomplishment. I want to be active, not receptive. I want to be in charge.

Tonight, in this Mass of the Last Supper, we are reminded that Judas left early. It seems to be a fundamental truth of human nature that we cannot be independent. We give our fealty to God or we give it to another earthly power. The currents are too strong around us for us to be independently standing erect. If we do not bend the knee to Jesus, then we will bend it to an earthly power. Judas is not able to separate from Jesus, without stepping into the darkness of night and soon comes his destruction. Worldly powers will suck us away.

At the end of Mass this evening, there is no usual conclusion of blessing and recessional hymn. Rather, we witness the stripping of the altar and depart in silence. This deep symbol of stripping and leaving the bare confronts us with the sober challenge of the Cross. Jesus has come to take us home to the Father, but the path goes through the Cross. We can be grateful for the heavenly food of the Eucharist, we give thanks that Jesus has searched for us and rescued us; but we must still submit that the path to life with the Trinity must pass through the Cross. And so, the Mass concludes with silence and bare surface – no decoration.

~ Fr. Paul Deutsch, SJ
Tampa, April 9, 2020

Holy Thursday image by Derek Winterburn, used with limited permission. 

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