Love is going down, not up

The Lord Is My Chef Recipe for Holy Thursday by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 14 April 2022
Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14  ><}}}}*>  1 Corinthians 11:23-26  ><}}}}*>  John 13:1-15
Photo from aleteia.org, Cathedral of Monreale, Italy.

Tonight we enter the holiest three days of the year, the Triduum of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper that leads us into Easter on Sunday, the mother of all our feasts.

It was during the Lord’s Supper on Thursday evening before he was arrested when he gave us the commandment to “do this in memory of me” referring to the celebration of the Holy Eucharist which is the sacrament of love because on that Supper of the Lord, it was then when Jesus gave himself to us in signs what he would do on Good Friday. It was during that supper known as the Last Supper when Jesus showed His “love in action” for us in all time made present in every celebration of the Eucharist. This is the reason why Holy Thursday is also known as “Maundy Thursday” from the Latin word mandatus, mandatum or commandment/law.

Unlike in the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke along with Paul who mentioned the institution narrative of the Eucharist in our second reading tonight, John opted to tell us what we might describe as a “sidelight” to Holy Thursday, the washing of the feet of the disciples; but for John, the “beloved disciple” of Jesus, the washing of the feet is the core and essence of the Last Supper – not a sidelight – for it shows us and even makes us experience how Jesus “loves us to the end.”

“Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end…He rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and then tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist.”

John 13:1, 4-5
The lower we go down, the greater our love is.

True love is always a downward movement. Unlike in our society today when love is equated with selfish interests and materialism that calls for “upward mobility” for more wealth and power, knowledge and freedom and fame measured in likes and followers, true love is actually a “passing over”, a pasch or a passion like that with Jesus Christ.

When we let go of our positions, of our titles, of our very selves to go down with the rest, to go down with our students, with our followers, with our subordinates — that is when we truly love like Jesus Christ. It is what we mentioned last Fifth Sunday in Lent (03 April 2022) when Jesus bended down twice, first before the woman caught committing adultery and second to her accusers who left the scene when Jesus dared the sinless among them to cast the first stone on her. Now at the washing of his disciples’ feet at the last supper, Jesus again bended down reaching his lowest bending tomorrow on the Cross.

In all the bending down by Jesus – to the woman caught committing adultery, to her accusers, to the washing of feet of the Twelve and to his crucifixion – he shows us his immense love and mercy to us sinners, bending down to save our face and uplift those down in shame and pain among us (https://lordmychef.com/2022/04/02/the-joy-of-meeting-god/).

Note the movements by Jesus at the washing of his disciples’ feet were in itself a “passing over”, expressions of his love: “he rose from supper, took off his outer garments, took towel then tied it around his waist, poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist.”

In Israel at that time, washing their master’s feet was not part of the servants’ “job description” because it was – and still – demeaning. But for those who truly love, for those who love to the end like Jesus, the most demeaning acts can also be the highest expression of love! When you take care of your sick parent, when you give yourself in service to people you hardly know and would not care for at all, when you try to bear all the pains and hurts in silence – these can be all so demeaning but meaningful to others and to God.

Photo from GettyImages/iStockPhotos.

Imagine the great love of Jesus for us, no matter how sinful we may be like Judas Iscariot whose feet Jesus still washed before betraying him. In its original Greek, “to betray” means to hand over a beloved to extreme pain and suffering, the opposite of Passover when we go down to love; to hand over is to break away, to break ties, to discard, to stop loving.

And this is the good news of this Holy Thursday: we have all been cleansed by Jesus in his pasch, in our baptism, and for those who have gone to confession, in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Would we still remain to be in sin, outside of Jesus?

Tonight, there are two persons with supporting roles in the Supper of Jesus Christ: Peter and Judas. The former denied the Lord thrice while the latter betrayed Jesus. Peter repented and thus became the Rock of the Church while Judas grieved and took his own life.

We too can be either Peter or Judas when we deny or betray friends and loved ones or when they deny or betray us. It may have taken some time for Peter to finally stoop down before Jesus at the shore of the Lake of Tiberias to admit his sin of denying the Lord three times. But the fact remains that he bent low before Jesus in repentance that before the flock could be entrusted to him, the Lord asked him thrice if he loves Him. In Peter we have seen that before we could love the Church, the sheep, we must first of all love the Lord. Judas remained high in his pride; though he felt sorry for his sins, he could not go down on his knees before Jesus for he had lost his love for Him that made him decide to take his life instead.


Lord Jesus Christ, you love us so much 
and yet we love you so little;
you have gone so low for us, 
not only emptying yourself 
by taking the form of a slave 
to come in our human likeness 
but even humbled yourself in obedience until death. 
We always try to look so strong and powerful, 
refusing to bend our knees to go down before You and others, 
always trying to save face and honor; 
but, the truth is we are so weak inside, 
so ashamed to admit our faults and sinfulness. 
Give us the grace this Holy Thursday 
to be one with you again, 
to go down in you with our brothers and sisters, 
especially those whom we have denied or betrayed. 
Give us the grace to imitate your love 
and be heralds of your gospel of salvation to others. 
Amen.

Photo by author, 2016.

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