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The Model to Follow
Deacon Mike Meyer / Friday, March 29, 2024 / Categories: Blog, Homilies

The Model to Follow

Homily for the Mass of the Lord's Supper

          Legend has it that God granted Rabbi Chaim of Romshishok permission to visit Heaven and hell. The angel who accompanied him ushered the Rabbi into a large dining room with row after row of tables laden with platters of fabulous food. Yet, the people seated around the tables were emaciated and groaning with hunger. Moving closer, Rabbi Chaim saw that the people had long-handled spoons in their hands that could reach the platters, but their elbows were locked, so they couldn’t bring the food to their mouths. This was hell. The angel then took the Rabbi to Heaven. There, he entered an identical dining room where the people seated at the tables also held long-handled spoons and had locked elbows, but they were happily enjoying their sumptuous meal. The difference? They were feeding each other. It sounds like the people in Heaven understood today’s readings.

          Tonight, we commemorate the Lord’s Supper, the night Jesus celebrated the Passover Feast with his disciples for the last time, the meal where Jesus instituted the Eucharist. Our first reading, Psalm, and Epistle fit these themes perfectly, but our Gospel’s about washing feet. Why would the Church pick a passage from John about foot washing when stories about the institution of the Eucharist are readily available in Matthew Mark, and Luke? The Church is quite deliberate in its reading selections, so there must be a connection between the institution of the Eucharist and the foot washing. Let’s take a look.

          As we discussed at our Parish Lenten Retreat, we Catholics believe that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist—Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. Through the Eucharist, Jesus comes to us in the palatable forms of bread and wine so we can have the eternal life he promised to all who eat his flesh and drink his blood. It’s the Sacrament where we can find Jesus still dwelling among us in the best of times and the worst of times, where he’ll remain with us until the end of the age so we can have an intimate relationship with him forever. But that’s not all the Eucharist does. It also conforms us to Christ; it makes us like him. When we consume the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus enters our body and soul and infuses it with his. He nourishes us spiritually and conforms every fiber of our being to his. So the Eucharist helps us live as he taught us to live and love as he taught us to love, and that’s where the foot washing comes in.

          Jesus washed the disciples’ feet at the first Eucharist to teach us that the Eucharist isn’t a private grace we squirrel away for our own good. It’s a call to action. It’s a call to follow his model of loving service. Every time we say “Amen” as we receive Communion, “we commit ourselves to doing what Christ has done, to ‘washing the feet’ of our brothers and sisters, becoming a real and visible image of the One who ‘emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.’”[1] We eat his flesh and drink his blood to carry Jesus out into the world, to be his hands and feet, and continue his work loving and serving every person we encounter. Our “Amen” means not only that we believe that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist but that we also believe in and commit to his mission.

So what exactly does our “Amen” commit us to? At the end of this evening’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I have given you a model to follow.” Now, the slackers in us may think, “That’s not so bad; I can suck it up and wash a couple feet every now and then,” but that’s not all that Jesus said. He added, “As I have done for you, you also should do.” Jesus did a lot more than just washing a few dozen feet. The King of Kings and the Lord of Lords entered the world as a poor child born in a stable to reconcile us to God. The host of the Heavenly Banquet washed his guests’ feet, the job of the lowest household servant. The Lamb without blemish sacrificed his innocent life for our sins. The model Jesus calls us to follow is one of perfect humility and heroic service that includes laying down one’s life for others.[2] The model Jesus gave us, the model we commit to every time we receive Communion, calls us to love one another as Jesus loved us.

Now, that’s a tall order, for sure, but God never gives us a job we can’t accomplish, and with his help and many people have and continue to do so every day. 

+ Parents work hard to put food on the table and care for their children, even when they don’t feel like it;

+  Children care for their aging parents while struggling to manage their own busy lives; and

+ Countless volunteers right here at Saint Catherine’s help bring Jesus to our parishioners in Word, Sacrament, and charity.

Strengthened by Jesus’ abiding presence in the Eucharist, ordinary people follow Jesus’ model, sacrifice themselves in loving service to others, and do extraordinary things. That’s the model Rabbi Chaim found in Heaven.

          After seeing Heaven, Rabbi Chaim begged the angel to bring him back to hell so he could share this model with the poor souls trapped there. Racing into the dining hall, he shouted to the first starving man he saw, “You don’t have to go hungry. Use your spoon to feed your neighbor, and he’ll return the favor and feed you.” The man growled, “You expect me to feed the detestable creature? I’d rather starve than give him the pleasure of eating!” Then, the Rabbi understood. The only difference between Heaven and hell is the way people treat each other. If we follow Jesus’ model of humble, heroic service, we’ll love each other as he loved us and find ourselves at the end of the age happily enjoying a sumptuous meal at the table of the Lord.

Readings: Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14; Psalm 116; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-15

[1] John Paul II, Eucharist, Washing of Feet, New Commandment, Homily (March 28, 2002), Catholic Culture, https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=4214

[2] Scott M. Lewis, “The Gospel According to John,” New Collegeville Bible Commentary: New Testament, ed. Daniel Durkin (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2009), 345.

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