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Holy Thursday Homily 2018

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          Holy Thursday.  Practicing What We Preach

In the scriptures we hear that Jesus taught with authority, not like the Scribes and Pharisees. He was different from other preachers.  Why did he have authority?  Very simply, it was because he practiced what he preached. The crux of his teaching was that we are to love God, we are to love our neighbor. But Jesus took it one step further.  We are to love the enemy.  We all find that point of doctrine very hard. Jesus shows us in the Passion Narrative (the story of his last hours on earth) that he was willing to love his enemies.

            An essay was written years ago called The Beloved Captain. The story was written by Donald Hankey about Captain Ronald Hardy. Hanky served as a sergeant in the British Army.  He served under Captain Hardy, then he was transferred.  He was appalled by the behavior of his new captain. The qualities of Captain Hardy shone in comparison, and that prompted his essay.    In one place in the book, a scene is described which calls to mind what we have just read in the Gospel of John.  The captain’s job was to look after the soldiers in his care.  The men needed to be in shape, so he would work them hard.  He also needed to make sure that each person under his command was fit to serve. Each commander had their own theories about how this was to be done.

            Captain Hardy took it upon himself to visit each man of his platoon in their barracks after a hard march to inspect his men’s feet.  The soldiers would sometimes be too tired to pay attention to the condition of their feet.  At other times they would not want to be the one to complain afraid that their fellow soldiers would make fun of them.  A man might ignore a problem, ending up unable to walk.

            Hardy would have each man remove his shoes and socks. He then, would look at each man’s feet to see if all was well. His sergeant would follow along carrying bandages, medical tools and ointments.  If someone would complain of soreness he would kneel to purify a wound, or, to bandage it.  The experience of having your commanding officer attend to your feet was a profound one for the men.  Some claimed it was a religious experience. Maybe it was because Captain Hardy showed no favoritism. Even if the soldier was a difficult recruit, he would look after them. He did not treat one person better than the other.  The captain knew that he needed every man in his unit healthy if there were to be peak efficiency.  The platoon was only as good as its weakest members.  The soldiers would, in the end, do anything for the captain who showed such magnanimity.

            How much this resembles what Jesus did for his disciples! He goes around the table doing the work of the servant. How difficult it must have been for these men to allow themselves to be cared for by their master.  Jesus washes each one with his strong hands.

            We read in the Gospel of John today how Jesus comes to the person of Peter.  Peter refuses at first to have his feet washed.  When Jesus tells him, he will have no place with Jesus if he does not have his feet washed.  He quickly agrees.  Isn’t ironic that he washes the feet of a man who will three times deny him?

            But what is even more interesting to meditate about is the fact that Jesus washes the feet of Judas. What was Judas thinking as Jesus washed his feet? What anguish Jesus must have had as he washed Judas’ feet. Judas sold Jesus out. If we label anyone as an enemy of Jesus, we would have to call Judas that, but Jesus washed his feet with all the others. Yes, Jesus practiced what he preached. He had authority.

            Where are we at in our relationship to Jesus tonight?  Do we let Jesus wash us clean?  Are we ready to let him?  Or, are we unwilling?  Jesus needs us all in his company.  He does not want leave anyone behind. We can only march with him if we are willing to let him serve us. 

We might meditate tonight on what kind of relationships we are in with other people?  Most of us have enemies.  How do we treat them?  Do we trade insult for insult?  When those who we have difficulty with criticize us in front of other people do we do the same defaming them whenever we can?  Do we say we are sorry when we are wrong, or are we filled with pride and refuse? 

            Jesus challenged his disciples at the last supper.  “As I have done you must do.”  Jesus disliked those who were arrogant, prideful, conceited, egotistical.  But in the end, we believe, he would wash even those people’s feet along with all the others.  There is no greater love than this.