One of the most remarkable selections in our book of Readings for Mass (the Lectionary) is the one chosen for Holy Thursday. The particular feast beings the three-day remembrance of Jesus’ final days on earth, his burial, and the resurrection.
The emphasis at this Mass is the gift of the Eucharist, when believers celebrate the gift of Jesus himself in the form of Bread and Wine. This Mass is far more than an entry into these holy days; in itself, it points to the Bread Jesus blessed, and Wine Jesus consecrated, at the Last Supper. Believers think of the Last Supper as actually continuing through time and space, with every Eucharistic ceremony we celebrate. To receive Holy Communion is the height of one’s experience of union with God through Jesus. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RnxYqCdx2rw)
Yet at this Mass, while the second reading is one of the earliest accounts in the New Testament about the Last Supper (1 Cor 11: 23-25). The Gospels take a different direction. It tells us about the washing of the feet of the Apostles which Jesus did at the Last Supper. It’s as if the Church is saying to its members: if you want to know what the Holy Eucharist is about, you had better learn, first, what it means to wash each other’s feet.
Jesus makes clear what his intention is: ““Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him” (John 13:13-16).
This pushes back against a long tendency believers have with the Eucharist: to make it a source of inner awareness and solace. Ever since our childhood, we have been urged to be silent after Holy Communion; to attend to the Words Jesus is speaking in our hearts. We have also been invited to Eucharistic Adoration with the emphasis on Jesus’ actual presence in the consecrated Bread.
But few of us have been invited, after receiving Holy Communion, to care for the basic needs that we see around us. “As I have done for you, you should also do.”
The Full Ministry of Christ
Thomas Jefferson, and I’m sure he was not alone, wanted to retrain the “words and teachings” of Jesus. As a result, he cut from his Bible passages about the deeds of Jesus. In this way he retained only the most famous sayings of Jesus. His motive was two-fold. On the one hand, he was responding to the skepticism around him which questioned the authenticity of the deeds of Jesus; on the other hand, if we made Jesus into a moral teacher, wasn’t that going to be enough?
One ends up, then, with a chopped-up Bible in which Jesus says noble things but nothing happens. Yet it was the very happenings that Jesus brought about which indicated his clearest and greatest purpose: to begin a new state of human existence in which humans would relate to each other in a new way, transformed by God. “But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Lk 11:20. Jesus came to make things happen not to give us moral nosegays.
So the full ministry of Jesus, for those who would be his disciples, entails not only a new knowledge and attitude; it entails a new way of action with reference to others. The Jesus we adore in silence is the Jesus who calls us beyond our comfort zones to care for each other.
This may help us see a place to begin when working with others to bring the Gospel to them. If we begin by serving human needs when we have shown ourselves as available and caring. This creates a potential bond upon which we can build. Maybe our child or friend does not talk religion with us; but that hardly means they will not be willing to help someone in need. Our bonding with people on the level of service helps people see that they to can bond with Christ as a servant like him. Many modern young people find this the most compelling form of witness.
We share the whole Christ with others, not just the pious picture we’ve constructed in our head. After all, what we are doing for the least of Christ’s sisters and brothers we are, ultimately, doing for and to him.