Thursday, April 5, 2012

Holy Week Reflection: Holy Thursday

Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper
(Ex 12:1-8, 11-14; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15)

Today is known as Holy Thursday, or Thursday of Holy Week. The Church commemorates and celebrates the Supper of the Lord, or the Last Supper, in which Jesus institutes the Eucharist and the Priesthood. In addition, in John’s Gospel, the Evangelist portrays Jesus giving an example of how to minister to others and how to be ministered to by others in his washing of the feet of the disciples. Both cases require both meekness and humility.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines meek as “enduring injury with patience and without resentment” and humble as “not proud or haughty; not arrogant or assertive.” In addition, St. Bonaventure, the Seraphic Doctor, explains, “A person is meek by loving his brothers [and sisters], humble by loving lowliness. To be meek is to be a brother [or sister] to everybody; to be humble is to be less than everybody.” [1] Both meekness and humility refer to one’s relationship with others. Humbling oneself is lowering oneself in relation to another. Meekness is loving another in a certain way.

Jesus’ washing of the feet of the disciples is an example of both meekness and humility. First, Jesus’ act of ministry requires meekness, that is, Jesus’ brotherly love for his disciples. Love is the primary motivation for all of God’s actions, and therefore, Jesus’ actions. After all, God is love (1 Jn 4:16) and for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life (Jn 3:16). Because Jesus loves the disciples, he ministers to them by washing their feet and so gives them (and us, for that matter,) an example of how to minister to others.

Second, Jesus’ act of ministry requires humility. In Jesus’ time, the washing of one’s feet was the job of a slave or house servant. Jesus had to lower himself, that is, his social standing and role in society, and be free of any sense of pride or entitlement in order to perform this task. Jesus’ action echoes St. Paul’s words, “Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil 6:8). This is such a lowering of Jesus’ self that, at first, Peter refuses to have Jesus wash his feet. St. Bonaventure describes Peter’s response as fearful reverence. He explains, “He came to Simon Peter, that is, to wash his feet. And Peter said to him: Lord, are you going to wash my feet? Peter was speaking as one terrified: You are doing this for me? You, as Lord, are doing this for me, a servant? You, the Master, are doing this for me, the disciple? You, the Almighty, are doing this for miserable me? [2]

Peter’s response leads to the second point: being ministered to by others also requires both meekness and humility. Jesus tells Peter, “If I do not wash you, you will have no part with me.” In order to be obedient, Peter must also be meek and humble. Through his love for Jesus, he must allow himself to me ministered to by his Lord, the Master, the Almighty. Peter must lower his desire and will in relation to God’s desire and will, that is, humble himself before the Lord. And it is Peter’s love for the Lord that allows him to do this.

So, as we enter into these holy days of the Triduum, let us stop and take time to reflect how we can be meek and humble in our ministering to our brothers and sisters and in our being ministered to by our brothers and sisters. After all, Jesus instructs us, “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart” (Matt 11:29).

– Bro. Jeffrey Wilson, T.O.R.

[1] St. Bonaventure, “The Evening Sermon on Saint Francis” in Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, Vol. 1 - The Founder. Eds. Regis J. Armstrong, O.F.M. Cap., J.A. Wayne Hellman, O.F.M. Conv., and William J. Short, O.F.M. (New York: New City Press, 2000), 517.

[2] St. Bonaventure, Works of St. Bonaventure, Vol. XI – Commentary on the Gospel of John. Trans. Robert J. Karris, O.F.M. (Saint Bonaventure, NY: Franciscan Institute Publications, 2007), 688-9.