My Feet, Lord? – Homily for Holy Thursday

Jesus Washes Disciples' FeetJesus asks, “Do you realize what I have done for you?”

As we begin these holiest days of the year, it would be good for us to do just that: to realize what Jesus has done for us at the Last Supper.

The opening lines of the gospel set the scene.

First, Jesus knew that his hour had come, and second, he loved his own to the end.

He knew his hour had come, and he loved his own to the end.
In his darkest hour he did not abandon them.

Jesus is about to be betrayed.
He is about to be denied.
He is about to be crucified.

And faced with that coming reality, as that moment approaches when he is going to give the ultimate sacrifice, out of the love he has for his own, he answers with a gift.

He responds with the Eucharist.

He breaks the bread and says, “This is my body.”
He lifts the cup and says, “This is my blood.”

He offers himself to his disciples, to those who have given up everything to follow him.

Jesus is God. And he gives God to his followers.

And with the words, “Do this in remembrance of me,” he gives his apostles and their successors—bishops and priests—the mission to continually bring God to the world in this unique way.

So that no matter how weary we are, no matter how rejected we feel, no matter how lonely we might be, God is present.

We are nourished by Jesus’ Body and Blood. Because of Jesus, we can gather at this altar and receive Christ within us.

This is Jesus’ answer to his coming betrayal, denial, and crucifixion.

It’s an answer he’s been giving for his entire life, but it’s an answer so foreign to us that he has to keep explaining it and demonstrating it over and over again. That’s why we keep gathering Sunday after Sunday, year after year.

It’s not that the answer is terribly difficult or complex, but that it’s so hard for us to accept. We don’t think it can possibly be true.

What we receive when we accept the Body and Blood of Christ is total, unconditional love and acceptance.

In a world where we are so often evaluated, rated, and ranked, it is hard for us to conceive of a God who doesn’t care about status or levels or position.

That’s why Peter reacts the way he does when Jesus get up the middle of supper.

He watches as Jesus takes off his outer garment, wraps a towel around himself, and begins to wash feet.

And Peter is shocked.

This is his Lord, this is the Messiah. The Messiah doesn’t wash feet.

The feet of the disciples weren’t merely covered in a fine dust that had settled on them from the road.

Their feet were grimy and caked with mud and whatever else was to be found on the crowded streets of Jerusalem, where animals roamed freely, where food was openly displayed and sold in the marketplace.

Their feet were filthy, and it’s the job of the lowest of the servants to wash them.

And Peter, who had begun to understand Jesus as the Lord, Jesus as the Messiah, his Messiah, the great leader who was just welcomed with palm branches by the people of Jerusalem, this great descendent of David, this kingly, lordly man, stoops to do the work of the lowest servant.

And Peter won’t have it. The Messiah won’t wash his feet.

But Jesus insists.

My feet? Peter asks.
Yes, your feet, Jesus answers. This is what I’ve been telling you all along.

This is who I am. This is who God is. God stoops to serve.

In receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, Peter receives the same Messiah who lowers himself to wash his dirty feet.

We, too, receive the Eucharist.

And we, too, on this Holy Thursday night are approached by Jesus.

We see Jesus take off his outer garments, wrap the towel around himself, and approach us.

And Jesus says to us, I’m here to wash your feet.

My feet? we ask.
Yes, your feet.

When we receive the Body of Christ at communion, this is what we are receiving—a Messiah who does not set himself above us, a servant who sees neither “Jew nor Greek, slave or free person, male or female.”

And that is who we are to become when we receive Christ in the Eucharist.

Jesus has given us a model, so that as he has done for us, we should also do.

The most important thing of all is that we help others, regardless of their position or ours.

In Christ, there are no positions, no levels, no inferiors or superiors. There are only brothers and sisters in need.

We receive communion so that nourished by Jesus’ Body and Blood, we can have the strength, not to stand tall, but to get down on our knees and help the poor, the forgotten, the oppressed.

Jesus shows us how to take off our outer garments of pride, and fear, and anger and put on the towel of mercy, the towel of compassion, the towel of forgiveness, the towel of love.

And to get down on our knees and help our neighbors with whatever they need, regardless of who they are.

Only to the extent that we imitate Jesus the servant can we really say that we realize what he has done for us.

Tonight, when we get down on our knees in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, and when we look at the Body and Blood of Christ, it would be good for us to picture in our mind the faces of those who need us to wash their feet.

And when we leave here, may the final words of tonight’s gospel echo in our hearts long after this supper is finished: “I have given you a model, go now and do as I have done.”

Light from the Mud: Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

Jesus Heals the Blind ManToday is Laetare Sunday, which is why we are wearing rose today. We are over halfway through Lent, and the entrance antiphon to today’s liturgy begins, “Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her.” Laetare is the Latin word for “rejoice.”

Today is meant to be a little more festive than a typical Lenten Sunday, and is there anything more festive than the birth of a child?

So it’s very appropriate that on this celebratory Sunday we get to witness a birth.

We get to witness the birth of a new child of the light in today’s gospel. 

The man born blind has been living in darkness from the beginning of his days, just as all of us lived in darkness from the beginning of our days until our baptisms. 

And for some of us our baptisms are so long ago, or they took place when we were so young, that we don’t remember what it was like to live in darkness.

So this gospel is good for us to hear today, to recall the graces we have been given by our birth as children of the light.

And it’s also good for us to look at the birth of this new child of the light, because it reminds us of our own catechumens, who, in a few short weeks, will themselves become children of the light.

And so as we look at today’s gospel we see a man who was blind from birth, sitting by the roadside begging. 

Then Jesus passes by and notices him there.

Jesus says, “I am the Light of the World,” and he makes clay from dirt and saliva and smears it on the blind man’s eyes.

This is an important detail. It’s mentioned three times.

This is real, this is physical, this is the touch of Christ, the work of God made visible.

Recall how clay was used at the very dawn of creation when God formed us out of the dust of the ground and blew into our nostrils the breath of life, and we became living beings.

This is beautifully expressed in the last stanza of a poem called “The Creation” by James Weldon Johnson.

Up from the bed of the river

God scooped the clay;

And by the bank of the river

He kneeled Him down;

And there the great God Almighty

Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,

Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,

Who rounded the earth in the middle of His hand;

This Great God,

Like a mammy bending over her baby,

Kneeled down in the dust

Toiling over a lump of clay

Till He shaped it in His own image;

 Then into it He blew the breath of life,

And man became a living soul.

Amen. Amen.

Like a mother bending over her baby, God created humanity out of the clay. Throughout salvation history, God has called people together to be a family.

And now, as we return to the gospel, Jesus uses clay again at the dawn of this new creation, when the blind man is about to become a child of the light.

He takes the dust of the ground, spits in it, makes clay, new clay, and puts it on the man’s eyes, because he is about to become a new creation.

And just as God said, “Let there be light,” at the beginning of all things, so Jesus says, “Let there be light,” to the blind man and heralds a new beginning for him.

And we are witnesses to his rebirth.

He goes and washes himself in the Pool of Siloam because he is sent by Christ. He is sent by the one who was himself sent.

God sent Christ to bring creation to its fulfillment, to give new life and light to our clay bodies so we can become children of light.

And that is what we are.

It’s not always easy, though, as the man born blind came to understand. He was grilled by his neighbors, brought before the Pharisees, and expelled from the temple. And yet he maintained the truth of what he had experienced. He hung on, as we are asked to hang on.

Paul writes to the Ephesians what is good for us to hear: “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light…Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.”

Paul outlines for us what it means to be children of the light.

He understands that just because we are children of the light, it doesn’t mean we always act like it. 

After all, do our children always act like we want them to?

Did we always act like our parents wanted us to?

And so Paul is reminding us: “Look at the light and try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.”

When we are young we want to please our parents so much.

And then we grow up and we want to be independent and on our own, and we confuse being independent with being contrary.

Perhaps that’s part of what Jesus means when he says we need to become like children to enter the Kingdom.

The beautiful thing about pleasing God is that all we do to please God also brings us happiness and fulfillment. This is what it means to be light in the Lord.

We’re still growing as God’s children. The man in today’s gospel went through a gradual transition into discipleship.

First, he referred to his healer as, “the man called Jesus.”

Then, he said, “He is a prophet.”

Then, he is called one of Jesus’ disciples.

Finally, he comes to believe in Jesus as the Son of Man, and he worships him.

No matter how old we are, no matter how long it has been since our baptism, we are all on a journey of growth as children of the light.

And as we come to the middle of this Lenten journey and begin the walk towards Palm Sunday and the Easter Vigil, we ask ourselves what kind of children have we been? Have we been doing our chores?

Is there any garbage we need to take out? Any dirty laundry that needs washing?

Are we keeping our spiritual rooms clean? 

Have we been minding our manners, saying please and thank you in prayer?

These are all things children do to be a part of the family.

We each have our responsibilities.

Paul even has advice for those of us who are still spiritual teenagers: 

“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

Today we rejoice, because Easter draws ever closer, and with it the birth of new children of the light.

Jesus Thirsts for You: Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent

Jesus and the Samaritan WomanHere we are in the third week of Lent. How are your Lenten resolutions going? Mine aren’t going so great, to be honest. Last Friday, I made myself a turkey sandwich for lunch, forgetting it was Friday. I think I was just going through the motions of the day, not really paying attention.

Sometimes life is like that, a series of unconscious, or nearly unconscious, actions that add up to a day.

The Samaritan woman in today’s gospel is going through the motions of her daily life when someone intervenes unexpectedly.

“Give me a drink,” Jesus says to her.

He’s thirsty.

But we know that Jesus is the Living Water. 

So what could he be thirsting for?

We know what the Samaritan woman is thirsting for.

She comes to the well to fill her empty jar.

But she comes to the well at noon. That’s a bad time to get water.

The sun is at highest, there is no shade. When she walks back home with her full jar, the water will get warm.

It’s much better to come in the morning.

But not if you’re trying to avoid people.

In the morning all the other women would be there. She doesn’t want to deal with the looks or the gossip. “There she is, the woman who’s had five husbands.”

So every day she comes to the well at noon, hoping to avoid their glances.

She’s willing to endure the heat and the loneliness to avoid the shame.

But she’s not willing to endure the thirst.

And so she brings her empty jar to the well.

Her thirst is so strong that she is driven to come out of her house and make the daily journey to the well.

Her thirst cannot be denied.

Her life is dry, her heart is thirsting.

So she comes to the well.

We go through our days, too, trying to quench our thirsts by filling an empty jar. What are the things we put into our water jars? What are the wells we visit? Music, viral videos, books, talk shows, fine art? What are we doing to fill up the empty spaces of our lives? Working, playing, praying?

We all have a thirst inside us, and we try to quench that thirst in a thousand different ways. Some of those ways are noble and beautiful. Some of them are low and ugly.

Each day we try to fill our empty jar, and each day it is empty again, over and over, sometimes without even thinking.

Just like the Samaritan woman in today’s gospel.

And then one day she meets a stranger at the well. She’s come to fill her jar, and Jesus asks her for a drink.

It doesn’t matter that she’s a Samaritan.

It doesn’t matter that she’s been married five times.

He asks her for a drink.

But it’s not water that he seeks. It’s something else.

Just as later he tells his disciples that he has food of which they know nothing, so too his drink is something else.

Jesus hungers to do the will of the one who sent him.

And he thirsts for the Samaritan woman’s faith.

When he says, “Give me a drink,” Jesus means, “Show me the gift of faith that you have received.”

The opening to today’s Eucharistic prayer says, 

“…when he asked the Samaritan woman for water to drink, he had already created the gift of faith within her and so ardently did he thirst for her faith that he kindled in her the fire of divine love.”

Jesus thirsts for her faith, and he thirsts for our faith, too.

Today, as we come to the well of the Eucharist, Jesus says to us, “Give me a drink.”

In other words, “Draw near to me, get to know me, believe in me. I long to be with you.”

Maybe we don’t believe that.

Maybe we doubt that Jesus could thirst for someone so weak-willed, so hard-hearted.

We don’t pray enough, we snap at our kids, we cut people off on the freeway, we’re rude to store clerks.

Jesus doesn’t thirst for me, we think.

But notice that Jesus was already at the well when the Samaritan woman arrived. He was waiting for her.

He knew all about her five husbands. And still he asked her for a drink.

He loves us in the midst of our weaknesses.

God has a long history of being merciful to stubborn people.

Just look at the first reading.

The grumbling Israelites complained about their thirst, and yet through Moses God touched the rock of Horeb, opening up a stream of living water.

God wants to do the same for us. God thirsts to make of us a flowing fountain.

If we stand still long enough to notice and listen, God will touch our stony hearts and we will become a spring welling up to eternal life.

Jesus awaits us in our daily lives, especially at those wells where we often get our spiritual thirst quenched.

Behind every beautiful painting, among all the spring flowers, in every song that makes us tap our toes or clap our hands, Jesus is there.

When a movie lifts our spirit, when a basketball player makes an amazing drive to the bucket, Jesus is there in all that is good, true, and beautiful.

But the paintings, the flowers, the songs, the movies, the athletes, are merely well water. 

They are not Jesus. They can’t satisfy us for long.

Each day our water jar is empty again.

Water from a well is lifeless, still, and stagnant.

But the living water of Christ is a flowing fountain, a spring welling up to eternal life.

It cannot be contained in an empty jar.

That’s why the woman leaves her jar behind when she goes to town to tell the others whom she has met.

Her jar is empty but her heart is overflowing with the Living Water of Christ.

This is what Jesus thirsts for. This is the reason he was sent into the world.

He thirsts for us, because he loves us.

No matter how sinful we are.

It’s what Paul tells us in the letter to the Romans: “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”

God doesn’t love us because we are good. God loves us so that we can become good.

He pours himself out as water for us, in spite of our sinfulness and shortcomings.

From the height of the cross, Jesus looked down and said, “I thirst.”

From the pierced side of his crucified body flowed blood and water.

“Give me a drink,” Jesus says to us, “so that I can quench your thirst with living water.”

Stretch Forth Your Hand – Homily for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Aged Hands

If you’ve ever looked at the hands of your grandmother or grandfather,
Or at the hands of an elderly friend,
Then you’ve had a glimpse of their life story.

Each pair of hands has a story to tell,
And the older we get, the more our hands have to say.
Some hands are scarred or spotted.
Others are twisted and gnarled with arthritis.
A hand can have callouses or be as smooth as lotion.

The fingers, too, tell a tale about our lives.
Some of us have long fingernails decorated with bright polish and fancy designs.
Some nails are nervously chewed down.
Our fingers might be covered with a band-aid or circled by a wedding ring.

Whether they’re spotted with age or smooth as silk,
No two hands are alike.
Each hand in the world has its own unique creases and landmarks.
No two fingers have the same fingerprints.

Written on our hands is the story of our lives and the choices we have made.

The readings today speak to us of the choices that lie in our own two hands.

The book of Sirach tells us God has set before us fire and water.
To whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand.
Life or death.
Good or evil.
Water of Life or
Fiery Gehenna.
The choice is in our hands.

In the gospel Jesus tells us that we have the choice to break the commandments or to obey the commandments.
The choice is in our hands.

We make the choice in our hearts, and our hands make it happen.

What do our hands tell us about the choices we have made?
What story do they tell?

These are the hands that reached out to Mom and Dad while we were just learning how to walk.
These are the hands we would fold in prayer as we knelt by our bed before sleep.
These hands were pressed tightly together as we walked up the aisle to make our first communion,
And they held the bouquet as we walked up the aisle when we were married.

These hands play video games and swing baseball bats.
They tap on tablet screens and type up term papers.
They make the winning free throw or putt for birdie.
They throw a Hail Mary pass or make an interception.
These hands tickle the keys of a piano, rattle off a drum solo, or strum the strings of a guitar.

These are the hands that tuck the children into bed at night,
And these are the thumbs that text them
To make sure they got to their friend’s house safely.

Water or Fire? Life or Death? To whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand.

Hands can pick pockets, spray graffiti on a wall, or throw a rock at a window.
A closed hand held high can strike fear into children or classmates.
An open hand can slap or spank in anger.

A hand can pull the lever of a slot machine or toss in more poker chips.
A hand can hold a beer can or a wine glass.
It can be stained with nicotine.
A hand can inject a needle
Or move a computer mouse and click on images that can destroy a marriage.
The palms of our hands can cover a face that is too ashamed to be seen
Or too sad to smile.

But hands pressed firmly together can pump a stopped heart to save a life.
And we can hold hands when we walk on the beach,
Or when one of us is dying in a hospital bed.

Our hands can hook up jumper cables when a car won’t start,
And they can leave a tip at a restaurant.
They can hold a video camera during a pageant or a play or a ball game.
They can serve a meal to the homeless,
Or be placed simply on a shoulder for comfort.

When these hands carry a gift to the altar, and we recall that a brother or sister has something against us,
Those hands can leave the gift there
Drive us to our brother or sister
And reach out to them in apology and forgiveness.

God sets before us fire and water,
And it is up to us to decide to which we will stretch out our hands.

We each have a choice to make.

And the actions of the hands reveal the choices of the heart.
We may intend to do good, and we may know the right thing to do.
But no matter what we intend to do,
We discover what we truly choose
By the story we read in our hands.

Our hands express our choices, our decisions. They tell the story of our lives.

God’s hands tell a story too.
We can see the workings of God’s heart by looking at those hands:
The hands that smeared spit and mud and cured a man’s blindness.
The hands that touched the leper and made him clean.
The hands that drew Lazarus forth from the grave.
The hands that broke bread, blessed it, and gave it to his disciples.
The hands that washed their feet.
The hands outstretched on the cross.

With his hands, Jesus freely embraced the will of the Father;
He chose Life over death.
Good over evil.
Relationship over rebellion.
And his wounded hands tell the story.

Like Jesus, we are free to decide.

God does not tie our hands.
He sets before us life and death,
And lets us choose.

God will never use violence to force our hand.
God is persuasive, assertive, and direct.
But never tyrannical.

There are no handcuffs in heaven.

We can choose to break commandments or to break bread,
To build up or tear down.

We gather here as a community to renew our decision to choose the Water of Life and reject the Fiery Gehenna.

In a little while we will extend our hands in the sign of peace, and offer the story of our lives to our neighbors.
No matter what our hands say about the choices we have made in the past,
Today we offer our lives to each other in peace
And recommit ourselves to choosing life.

And then we will approach this altar and stretch out our hands to accept the Body and Blood of Christ from the Hands of the minister of the Eucharist.
Our hands will receive the one who holds us in His hands,
And once again our stories will become the One Story.

And we will know it as well as we know the back of our hands.