Posted by: frroberts | September 29, 2017

The Last Will and Testament of Jesus Christ

Being in the room with someone who knows that he is dying can be hauntingly beautiful. It can also be among the most heart-wrenching moments in the human experience. The one who is dying generally desires that his loved ones be present. Very often, the dying person wants his loved ones to be close to him in order give them parting gifts, to make one final gesture of love before he passes into eternity. In cases like these, the one who is dying desires to give as much of himself as he can before he goes.

On Holy Thursday our Lord Jesus knew that His death was drawing near. The Evangelist John tells us that, “Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father.” Judas had already betrayed Him. The High Priests’ plan to kill Him was underway. In the face of imminent death, Jesus gathered those whom he loved most, his Twelve chosen ones, around Him to anticipate the Passover feast. He wanted to give them the most precious gift that He could, Himself.

“Jesus loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end. “

The secular culture in which we live often poses the question, ”How can a good God allow so much evil in this world?” Many respond to the apparent silence of God by concluding that, if there is a God, we can really know very little about Him and in the case that God exists, He might not even be worth knowing. In the face of what seems like random, senseless suffering we look to heaven and, like Job, clamor for God to justify Himself. We want God to rend the heavens and come down and set the world right, to eliminate suffering and pain.

Jesus is God’s response to these cries. Christ comes to set fallen creation right. He is the proof that God listens to our pleas to be saved, but His mission makes clear that the Almighty does not eliminate evil in the way we demand. Instead, in Jesus Christ God chooses to suffer with us.

“He rose from supper and took off his outer garments.”

There are no incidental details in John’s Gospel. Our Lord’s removal of His outer garments is a visual way of expressing His self-emptying. When the Word became flesh, when the Second Person of the Trinity forever took to Himself a human nature, the Creator became a part of His creation. In other words, Jesus, in becoming man, chose to leave behind all of His rights as God and took to Himself the curse of the human condition after the fall, suffering and death. But, unlike us, He did so as an innocent, sinless lamb. We don’t like to admit it, but since we are sinners our sufferings and ultimately death are in some sense the consequence of turning our backs on God’s love. We are all traitors complicit in our first parents’ rebellion against God.

This is not the case with Jesus.  The Son of God emptied Himself by choosing to pay the price for our insurrection. Saint Paul explains it like this, “He who knew no sin became sin for us.” At the Last Supper, our Lord made a decisive move to enter willingly into the worst the fallen world we have created had to offer: betrayal, abandonment, jealousy, brutality and ultimately, murder. And He did it for no other reason than His love for us.

“He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet and dry them.”

In the ancient world, the most common means of transportation was by foot. This meant that the vast majority had very filthy feet much of the time. Imagine for a moment what it would be like to walk miles day after day on dusty primitive roads without running water and it begins to become clear why foot washing was generally only done by slaves. It was considered below the dignity of a free man to take off his good cloak and get down on his hands and knees and wash off the grime that was caked onto the smelly, calloused feet of his guests.

Consider for a moment the great humility of our God. He, the all-powerful creator of the universe, infinitely greater than we can even begin to imagine, sets aside the fine cloak of His divinity and crawls on his hands and knees to do a job that was reserved for the lowest of the low. The Son of God, worthy of all power, honor and glory, has freely decided to become a slave to us sinners!

Jesus washes the feet of Peter, who would publicly deny that he even knew Him three times before the sun rose the next morning. He washes the feet of Judas, who had already betrayed Him, selling Him out for thirty pieces of silver. He washes the feet of James and John, who along with Peter would fall asleep when Jesus asked them to be with Him during His agony. He washes the feet of all the other Apostles, who will abandon Him when the temple guards come to arrest Him. And in His divinity, as He humiliated Himself by doing the work of a body slave, Jesus knew that each one of them would reject Him. But, He did it anyway.

He did it anyway because He loved them.

“I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

There is no account of the words of institution of the Eucharist in Saint John’s Gospel. “This is my body” and “This is my blood” had become so familiar to Catholics by the time that the beloved disciple wrote his gospel toward the end of the first century that he did not include them. In place of this conspicuous absence, we encounter the account of the Washing of the Feet. In doing this, Saint John is reminding us that the deepest reality of the Eucharist is service. Yes, the Eucharist makes present the Passion, death and Resurrection of the incarnate Son of God on the altar. Yes, under the appearance of bread and wine, Jesus is substantially present body, blood, soul and divinity. But Jesus gave us this wonderful sacrament not because He wanted to give us a divine talisman, a kind of sacred rabbit’s foot, but in order to change us.  Jesus gave us the gift of the Eucharist because He wants us to become like Him, to learn to love others as He has loved us.

Christ’s last will and testament to the Church is the Eucharist.  When He tells us to “do this in memory of me” He is not leaving a ritual that magically imparts an esoteric spiritual experience, but is rather inviting us, strengthened by sacramental grace, to live out His story of self-giving in our own lives by loving others has He has loved us, even to the point of being willing to lay down our lives in service for others.

This mission, love through service, is the mission that Jesus gives us at every Mass.

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