Someone I respect greatly prays for an hour early every morning. Now in his late seventies, he has done this faithfully since his early twenties. It speaks of a firm, ever-deepening faith. Today’s gospel is about faith, especially growth in faith. Last night at the Easter Vigil service, here and worldwide, Mark’s gospel proclaimed of Jesus of Nazareth, crucified three days ago: “He has risen. He is not here”. The Vigil service proclaims the resurrection. Today’s liturgy restates that: “the Lord has risen indeed, Alleluia”. However, the gospel highlights the as yet meagre faith of Jesus disciples, as Mary Magdalene, Peter and the other disciple scramble around trying to make sense of the empty tomb.
Mary Magdalene is confused. Her explanation of the empty tomb is that there has been a robbery. The body has gone. She foists this conclusion on Peter and the other disciple. “We don’t know where they have put him”. When Peter gets to the tomb, he notices something strange. The head cloth has been rolled up and put in a place by itself. These are remarkably tidy robbers. Did he begin to wonder, “Does the empty tomb have another explanation?” When the other disciple went into the tomb, he came to a deeper conclusion. Putting the evidence together and, relying on his close relationship with Jesus, as the one who was close to Jesus at the last supper, “he saw and believed”. The gospel reminds us that the faith of individual believers can be at different levels.
Today we might ask ourselves about our own faith. Not that we need be too critical. Perhaps we might ask ourselves, “Do I desire a deeper relationship with Jesus?” If the desire is there, Jesus will seek it out. After today’s gospel, the risen Jesus seeks out Mary and Peter. He consoles them and brings them to a deeper faith in himself. The first reading today shows Peter proclaiming to his pagan convert Cornelius that he and the other apostles were witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection; they even ate and drank with the risen Jesus. I can remember moments of growth in faith in my own life. Years ago abroad I attended an early morning Mass, beautifully celebrated, in a language I didn’t understand – I came away convinced more than ever before of Jesus’ presence in the bread and wine; the conviction of that moment still stays with me. Not too long ago I suggested in confession to a man in his thirties that he pray to Jesus “as a friend talks to a friend”. This simple suggestion overwhelmed him even to tears. As a community we proclaim the Risen Lord. As individuals we remember that “our lives are hidden with Christ in God”. So perhaps this is a moment of grace to ask the risen Lord to lead us into a deeper friendship.
After the homily I will wash the feet of some members of the congregation: Ugo a Ph. D student; Diana our cook; John a lecturer; another John who works in the two universities; Silvia a religious; Leon a masters’ student; Stephany and Kevin, altar servers. This is not theatre. It is Jesus’ message about how we are to treat one another in the community.
Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. He wiped them with a towel. He needed to kneel down on the floor. During the Passion we often see Jesus “on the floor”. After the Last Supper he retired to the garden of Gethsemane. There, “sorrowful to the point of death,” he fell on the ground and prayed. As he carried the cross up Calvary, Jesus stumbled and fell to the ground three times;. This we remember at the third, seventh and ninth stations of the Way of the Cross. Finally, stripped of his clothing, stretched out on the cross, laid flat on the ground, the soldiers hammered the nails into his hands and feet.
For the most part the Gospels present Jesus as active; teaching in synagogues; in the Temple; travelling by land and sea; healing, curing; in charge. But now he is passive; things are done to him; he suffers as a condemned criminal. If we can get a sense of Jesus on the ground, stumbling, falling prostrate, we might begin to comprehend something of God’s love for us; the tremendous love of the Creator for the creature. By humbly yielding to the injustice of the cross, Jesus, God, saved us. He saved us from the effects of sin. He offered us freedom and the gift of eternal life. The cross is truly a love story.
In the Washing of the Feet Jesus reminds us of his love for all men and women by loving his own disciples. Servants, disciples wash their master’s feet; not the master his servants’, disciples’ feet. Why does the priest wash the feet of members of the congregation on this night at the beginning of the Passion? To remind us how we are to relate to one another; how we are to treat one another; to love one another.
This week’s news reminds us of the work of evil in our world: a military leader jailed for crimes against humanity; a footballer jailed for criminal sexual activity; community destruction and mayhem in Brussels. Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet has much to teach us.
Strong words from Saint Paul in today’s second reading. Baptised into Christ, we become a new creation. Through Christ, we are reconciled to God. Our sins are taken care of. The world is reconciled to God. We must let the world know this message. “Be reconciled to God”. We are Christ’s ambassadors. As the risen Christ appeared to his disciples, we rejoice in the goodness of our God, passing on this goodness to others.
God’s goodness! God’s goodness appears among us when, whatever the problems, we deepen our faith, our hope and our trust in the God - the centre of our lives. God’s goodness appears among us, when we turn to God with thankful hearts, grateful for all that is beautiful. God’s goodness appears among us when we love the needy but especially when we show mercy.
Why did the prodigal son come home? What brought him back? Hunger, it seems. Though he had hit rock bottom, he remembered a better place. His father’s house! A place of goodness! There, he remembered, even the servants had more food than they wanted. A way home opened up. His father’s goodness shone forth. He could trust him.
This is only a parable. Back in real time Jesus’ goodness shone forth. “The tax collectors and sinners were all seeking the company of Jesus”. Jesus’ goodness shone forth; the goodness of God, the goodness of the Father. So what brings about this reversal, this change, in the lives of the tax collectors and sinners; in the life of the younger son? God’ goodness - this is what our hearts desire; what we long for! Ingrained in our souls, at baptism certainly, perhaps even at creation, is this longing for God. We like to play the role of the complaining Pharisee or the obtuse elder brother but the true Christian can never sustain it. Why? Because God’s goodness is always at work developing, deepening this desire for God.
One of the pastimes of those of us, who live in the chaplaincy, is looking out from on high at the many students “marching purposefully” to their next task. As one visitor put it; “they know where they are going”. I know there is at times much confusion, uncertainty and painful growth in student life but at the same time the future demands focus: the next deadline, the next exam: the first job after university.
For Christians God must always be our ultimate focus: the God of our fathers and mothers; the God of our Jewish-Christian tradition. Today’s Eucharistic Prayer reminds us of the moment towards which we are always “marching purposefully”, so to speak. It speaks of “the hour when we will stand before God, in the halls of heaven, freed at last from the wound of corruption, a new creation, thanking God for Christ’s work of redemption among us”. More than ever, modern life distracts us from our final destiny, from “where we are going”; from that moment before God and with God when all our hopes and desires will be fulfilled.
The young Moses stands before God, fascinated, brave, but not altogether at ease. Understandably he is not keen to confront Pharaoh. God, however, doesn’t want theological discussion with Moses about the divine nature. What we learn about God today is that God is gets involved. “I have heard the appeal of my people in in Egypt to be free of their slave-drivers” God want to get them to their final destination: “a land of milk and honey”
God is interested in us and our lives, as much as the Israelites. God wants to work with us on the journey now; on the next deadline, future job hopes. Lent asks for reflection and action: prayer and fasting, so that this relationship with God can grow. Working with God now offers an ever-developing, ever-lasting friendship of surprising joy; perhaps even of milk and honey now.