Jesus gives us an example, a commandment, a mandatum: “wash one another’s’ feet”. Tonight’s Washing of Feet will remember Jesus’ action. “How, in our daily lives, can we wash one another’s feet?” Jesus’ words and action are more than exhortation. It is what love does.
God is Love. Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, because God is Love. It is what Love does.
Love clearly saw the apostles as needy. Love didn’t see them as “future princes of the Church” but weak men needing help; needing inspiration. Love foresaw their unfaithfulness in the coming storm, but still loved them. Jesus’ love even for Judas is clear, as he offered him the morsel of bread, dipped in the dish; a chance to repent.
Insofar as we act out of love, we do what God does. We invite God into our lives. Jesus loved Judas, even as Judas’ kiss betrayed him. Jesus loved Peter at the moment of denial; Jesus loved Nicodemus in his hesitant following; Thomas in his doubting; criminals crucified alongside him – one friendly, one aggressive; Saul who persecuted him. Even his victorious persecutors: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”.
Today’s focus is not on ourselves, as needy men and women, like the disciples. We are invited to watch Love in action. As we watch, we cannot fail to let this Love penetrate our hearts and minds; to follow its movement and note that all the love and goodness that comes down from above flows out to the needy; near and afar; young and old, Jew and Greek, Muslim and Christian. This is what God does. This is what Love does. This is what Christians do. Watching, may we learn and do likewise.
Ian Tomlinson SJ
“Now my soul is troubled. Father, save me from this hour!” Do these words recall similar passages from scripture? These words of John’s Gospel resemble the Agony in the Garden of Matthew, Mark and Luke. “My soul is sorrowful even to the point of death” (Mark 14: 34). Also, our second reading today (Hebrews) reads: “During his life on earth, Christ offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had power to save him out of death …” Jesus knew distress of mind and soul, worry and agony, as do we.
Why does today’s liturgy focus on the theme of agony? The grain of wheat must die before it yields a rich harvest. The man who loves his life must hate his life in this world in order to enter into eternal life. Jesus’ agony is a powerful Holy Week theme.
Why do I focus on Jesus’ agony? Distress of mind and soul, worry and agony loom large in pastoral practice. Crucifixion, thankfully, is not regularly encountered. Agony is met in various forms. We speak of an experience being sheer agony. We talk of agonising moments; of agony and ecstasy. Some newspapers offer agony aunts. Christ’s death on the cross is, of course, at the centre of our salvation. However, the agony in the garden, as an experience, is perhaps something we more easily understand and therefore share with Christ.
Uniting ourselves, imaginatively, in our moments of distress with Christ’s agony in the garden may assuage our suffering. Repeating slowly “Now my soul is troubled …” the words of Christ our Saviour may help our troubles somehow mature and yield a rich harvest.
In Mark, sorrowful and fearful of the cup he must drink, Jesus prays his way to a deep sense of obedience to the Father’s will. Today in John Christ ends with a wonderful phrase from the depths of his hour of suffering “Father, glorify your name”.
Ian Tomlinson SJ
I once used John 3: 16-17 as a computer password. “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son” and “God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but so that through him the world might be saved”. Do any other verses express more exquisitely, more powerfully God’s desire to forgive; God’s desire to save? It was an easy reference/ password to remember.
Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus. Nicodemus appears to be a disciple “only by half”, as Gregory Nazianzen puts it. His was only a “partial” faith. Nicodemus doesn’t reject Jesus as many of the other leaders. However, he cannot go beyond the limits of his experience; beyond what he can control; beyond what he is comfortable with.
What about our own faith? Have we settled on a comfortable plateau? Do we long for a growth in faith? Are we men and women who prefer darkness to light? No! But are we open to the Spirit from above; ever seeking truth; letting the gift of baptism mature; excited about getting to know a God never outdone in love, generosity and mercy?
Nicodemus’ faith developed. When the chief Priests and Pharisees denounced Jesus, Nicodemus courageously pointed out that the law did not judge a person without giving him a hearing. After Jesus’ death he helped Joseph of Arimethea at some personal risk to bury the body. Not a vibrant faith! But is our faith developing likewise? What could we do deepen our faith?
“We are God’s work of art …” A beautiful phrase! All cultures rightly appreciate art. Human beings are sculptured by God’s love; fashioned by a creativity that captures something of the divine in the human.
This is to go beyond anything Nicodemus understood. It opens for us the possibility that Christ’s life might dwell in us and we in Christ. There can only be one response to God’s mighty works within us – gratitude. A true sense of gratitude to God for all God’s gifts cannot but increase our faith.
Ian Tomlinson SJ
Today Jesus is in the most sacred place of the Holy City – the Temple, on the day Jerusalem was celebrating its most solemn feast, the Passover. The temple is seen as a sacred place, a sacred building. Then Jesus calls it “my Father’s house”; going beyond Jewish usage. Finally temple means his body; living water would flow from Jesus’ pierced body on the cross. Jesus would become the source of eternal life for those who believe.
Jesus’ powerful action (driving the buyers and sellers out of the Temple) and his powerful words (“destroy my body and in three days I will raise it up”) are a statement to his enemies that things must change. Rules and buildings will no longer be central to religion. Faith, belief in Jesus – this will be key. Later when it came to the crunch, Jesus died and was raised to life, but still his enemies would not believe.
Saint Paul puts it this way. The Jews demand miracles; the Greeks wisdom; but we preach a crucified Christ. Today, as then, many see belief in a crucified Christ as an obstacle; as madness. No doubt, some would be happy with a risen Christ but not the crucifixion.
People today suffer in different ways. Some will suffer much less than Jesus but some suffer as he did. In essence, Jesus’ suffering came about because he preached the truth in a world where those in power did not want the truth. The circumstances could have been different. They were for Mary. Her suffering was to watch her Son suffer.
We should, of course, seek to alleviate suffering. For example, we take a sick child to the doctor. But the wisdom of God suggests that obedience to circumstances, obedience to what God is asking of us, as with the crucified Christ, is the way to happiness now that endures for ever; to eternal life.
Ian Tomlinson SJ
We began Lent with dirty black ashes (crosses) on our foreheads. Last Sunday we were with Jesus in the dusty desert. Today, describing the dazzling beauty of the Divine, Mark struggles with washing powder imagery. Yet here truly is a glimpse of Divinity. Dazzling white garments reveal the glory of the one who wears them. Mountains are places of divine communication; clouds of divine presence and glory. Above all, that rare moment of the voice of God, “This is my Son …”
The human and tempted Jesus of last Sunday is now indisputably divine. Human and Divine: this is the Jesus we believe in. Recognisable, yet mysterious; thought provoking; “Is God really concerned with us puny little human beings?” On the other hand, if Divinity beckons, where might it lead? Where might it end?”
At a concert recently I was privileged to listen to Vaughan William’s, The Lark Ascending; the violin capturing the songbird’s cascading voice; beautiful, yet fainter, as the bird ascends. One is drawn onwards and upwards. The Divine beckons. Yet with the rapturous applause of the audience, I crashed back to earth, like Peter on the mountain, when, the vision gone, looking round, he saw “only Jesus”.
Jesus is embarked on a journey to Jerusalem; then through death, resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father. A journey in line with the obedience and trust Abraham placed in God. A journey undertaken (as Saint Paul says today) out of love for us. It seems Jesus wants to take us all the way with him to the right hand of the Father. But why? Why not corral us in a secure human paradise free from nasty serpents. It seems that our hearts will not rest until they find their rest in God (Saint Augustine). Is this true of your heart? Does the Divine beckon, and, if so, why?
Ian Tomlinson SJ
“Man’s glory is to remain steadfast, firm, focused in the service of God”(St Irenaeus).
The large numbers attending mass on Ash Wednesday gave witness to our determination to deepen our faith during the forty days of Lent; a time already consecrated by Jesus’ forty days in the desert.
Jesus is driven into the wilderness (desert) by God’s Spirit. Jesus needed forty days in the wilderness, before proclaiming the “Good News”. Writing last week, Bishop John Arnold suggested we find a quiet place at home, a corner, a chair; a dedicated space for prayer. We can add this church and the chaplaincy chapel. Simple silent prayer will deepen our faith. It enables the soul to embrace God; to be embraced by God.
“Do you really believe that Jesus was tempted by Satan?” Tempted, just as we are? The divine/ human person of Jesus is a mystery of our faith. Mysteries of our faith are not puzzles. They are an invitation to a deeper faith. Here the invitation is to linger long on the fact that Jesus as a human being could be tempted. The more we come to realise Jesus shared our human nature, the more we will come to love him.
Many people suffer brutal deaths. Jesus was brutally crucified. Anxiety and terror can destroy peoples’ lives. Jesus suffered likewise in Gethsemane. Sadness and disillusionment! Jesus wept with such emotions over Jerusalem. Jesus understood Jairus’ sorrow at his daughter’s death; the shame of the woman taken in adultery; the embarrassment at Cana’s Wedding Feast, when the wine ran out!
The Old Testament begins with the destruction of Paradise in Genesis: Adam and Eve, the deceitful serpent, temptation given into, God. Mark’s “Good News” (the New Testament): Jesus, Satan, temptations – this time resisted; friendly wild beasts, the Holy Spirit, helpful angels. Paradise restored. Humanity back on track! Let us anchor our faith firmly in Jesus our Saviour, who suffered and was tempted as we are.
Ian Tomlinson SJ
If Saint Paul had been required to write exams, he would have been marked down: “Too complicated!” Today’s second reading from Ephesians, though complicated, is an important prayer: that each of us might come to know Jesus Christ more intimately. Coming to mass tonight is witness to such a longing. Maturity in faith is about noticing this desire within; longing for and looking to come to know Jesus Christ more intimately.
God invites us to a more mature faith for our own growth but also that we might go forth to instruct, to teach; maybe in humbler, less dramatic ways than in past ages, but nevertheless to go forth and to make disciples. Matthew ends his Gospel with that powerful phrase: “Go forth; make disciples ...” Known as the Great Commission, these words have inspired women and men for 2000 years. Roman martyrs, medieval cathedrals, intrepid missionaries, serious scholars, holy men and women – all played their part. May we, their descendants, continue the tradition!
Today Christianity often seems to be on the back foot: hesitant, withdrawn. Total satisfaction in this world sometimes seems just around the corner. Then the dream fades. Christianity claims that in Jesus we have a fullness that will fill us. This fullness may not be satisfied until we see God face to face in heaven but there can be moments in this life when we really do “taste and see that the Lord is good”. True there will spiritual drought, bitterness and hunger. But that is how it has always been – even for Jesus.
Christians must not fear the secular world. Nothing created is alien to God. Already, as the creative Word of God, Christ touches all creation. Our task is to bring alive for others the divine in our world. “Go, therefore, confidently making disciples ...”
Easter Week 5 Sunday Year A (John 14: 1-12)
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Jesus the Way to the Father Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
Do you still believe in heaven? Well – Yes, but does it feature much in your consciousness? When I was growing up in the early 1950’s, just after the Second World War (after all it was the Second and there was great anxiety about a Third World War), life was tough. With a background of bombing and many people knowing someone who had suffered in the war, preachers had no difficulty in talking about the 4 last things: death, judgment heaven and hell. Heaven, at least, was something to look forward to.
Do we need heaven now we have near-Utopia here? Sky (another word for heaven) Sky TV can offer every goal of every game. Then there is BT TV infinity (what on earth does that mean?). For whatever reason, the consumerist culture, secular values of our age, or our own selfish/ hedonistic tendencies, you could say we have pie on earth. We don’t need to look for pie in the sky. Moreover, isn’t our own religion incarnational? God became human. Isn’t our world charged with the grandeur of God? Why look beyond?
In different ways but in simple words in today’s Gospel, Jesus talks about his return to heaven. He talks about returning to the Father; about there being many rooms in the heavenly palace and going to prepare rooms for the disciples; he talks about returning to take his disciples, including us, with him.
It is in this phrase with him that heaven begins to mean something to me. Speaking to the disciples, Jesus says that “where I am, you may be too”. Jesus wants us to be with him now in this world and hereafter in heaven. Heaven isn’t a place but a stable and secure relationship with Jesus: a relationship that exists now but is open to quality growth and infinite intimacy! Believing and trusting in Christ, we begin “to taste the wisdom of eternity” “I am the Way; I am Truth; I am Life”. “Stay with me. Believe in me/ Trust in me”
Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.
He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
“What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.
He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.
Cleopas and his companion would always remember how their hearts burned within them as Jesus explained the scriptures to them on the road. Their recent, shattering experiences were now beginning to make sense. They would always remember how their eyes were opened and how they recognised Jesus in the breaking of bread. The opening of the scriptures and the breaking of bread would always go together when they celebrated the thanksgiving meal, the Eucharist. They would never forget that the Scriptures were fulfilled in Jesus. The scriptures we read and hear ultimately only make sense when and because we receive Jesus in Holy Communion.
They are full of joy as they hurried back to Jerusalem. They are now witnesses of the resurrection. They do what witnesses do. They go and tell their story to others. The others, the Eleven assembled with their companions, also have a story to tell: “Yes, it is true. The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon”. Notice the words assembled and companions. The word Church means those who are called together. Companions: those who share bread. The Church is being born.
As we leave mass, we are invited tell our story to others. We may find this a daunting commission; yet we can take heart from today’s Gospel. You might like to think of Cleopas and his companion as patrons of disillusioned, disappointed believers. They trudged away from Jerusalem, downcast. They returned, refreshed and renewed, their hearts overflowing with joyful news. On the road they met God, unmistakably divine; but a God who took time, as much time as was needed, to console, to explain, to instruct, to strengthen and to send them forth on a new mission. God had removed the burden from their shoulders. God specialises in consoling us; especially missionaries.
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Now Thomas (also known as Didymusa), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
The risen but wounded Jesus stands among his disciples. “Jesus showed them his wounded hands and side.” The wounds help recognition. They don’t hurt now. Jesus’ body isn’t a “brought-back-to-life body”, like Lazarus’ but a risen body: Jesus has passed through death to a new way of being; perhaps the word spiritual helps; but we don’t fully understand. At least, we know that for Jesus there will be no more suffering
They are glorious wounds. Glorious in that they have power to save us. On the big canvas Jesus destroyed death and nailed sin to the cross. On the one-to-one level, as the encounter with Thomas shows, Jesus’ wounds healed Thomas. Thomas now was the one whose wounds hurt. His negativity (“I refuse to believe”), his stubbornness (“unless I see the holes ...”) and the loneliness that followed; isolated among the Apostles. Thomas was walking in darkness. Jesus’ wounds changed all that: “Thomas, put your hand into my side ...”
My ageing body is not without wounds: physical, psychological, emotional: the darkness in which I live. Jesus, for sure, wants to heal my wounds but will I let him. Can I succumb humbly? Can I open my heart to Jesus as Thomas did: “My Lord and my God”? Can I make that leap of faith to entrust myself to Jesus our “sure hope”.
Our wounds can darken our lives: anger or bitterness can gnaw away at us; an oft--repeated sin can dominate our consciousness; We can cultivate hatred that no love can shift. We each know our own darkness. Yet Jesus can transform these weaknesses. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe”; blessed are those who believe that Jesus can heal them.
Why does Jesus want to heal us our wounds? Because he loves each one of us with “great mercy”; offering a “glorious joy that can never be described.” Furthermore, there is work to be done. “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you”. The apostles were sent out to preach. We shall listen to the Acts of the Apostles in the coming weeks. We too are sent out to work for the kingdom. Like the apostles, in order to work the better, we too need the Lord’s strength and consolation.