Fr. Ver Bust's Column:|
"Explaining the Gospel"
|Fr. Richard Ver Bust
Jesus provided a model to follow
Recall Jesus in offering thanks in breaking bread and sharing the cup
April 20 Holy Thursday
By Fr. Richard Ver Bust
We celebrate today the Feast of the Lord's Supper. It is the first of what we call the Triduum or
three sacred days in which we recall and reflect on the central mysteries of our faith. They help us
realize the meaning of these events, the suffering, death and resurrection of the Lord.
It is important that the three sacred days do not become a simple account of past events, but
events that continue to touch us again and again. This fact is emphasized in the Passover
celebration, in which the youngest asks, "Why is this night so special?"
In celebrating this event, we are saved and set free. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will
come again. Note the past, present and future. We take part in these events and each time we
recall them we too are participants.
Our Gospel reading from John does not tell the story of breaking of the bread and the sharing of
the cup of wine. That story is told in our second reading taken from 1 Corinthians. Since that
letter was written before the gospels, it is the oldest account of the institution of the Lord's
The language is technical and historic. It recalls what Paul taught them originally on his visit to
Corinth. It is part of the religious tradition that he had received from others, since he was not
present at the event. He also did not receive it as a special revelation from Christ.
He recalls the instructions of Jesus that have now been passed on in the community. He
emphasizes that Jesus gave a new meaning to the Passover and instructed his disciples to use this
event to recall him. He told them to "Do this" in memory of him. Do what? To offer thanks to
God in breaking bread and sharing the cup and to do it recalling what he had done.
The Gospel account begins by setting the scene. We are told that it was before the Passover.
Since Jesus knew his hour had come, he gathered his disciples together to be with him. Unlike
the synoptic gospels, which make it a celebration of the Passover, John tells us it was the night
The word "hour" is a key word in John for it refers to the time of Jesus suffering and death and
John refers to it as the time when Jesus will pass from this world. It is also noteworthy that John
tells us Jesus will go to the Father.
The washing of the feet is significant too. It would have been customary for people to have had
their feet washed when entering the home and not at the table. A slave or perhaps a woman
would have performed this ceremony. Now Jesus who is the master and teacher of all these
disciples washes the feet of those present. It was not meant by John simply to be a ceremony of
the past but to give an example to all those present. It, therefore, has theological meaning.
Jesus shows his love for his disciples by washing their feet. Later at the meal, he will tell them
that they must show love for one another even as he has expressed his love.
Peter misunderstands Jesus' gesture and sees it only as a humiliating act. Jesus insists that Peter
realize what is happening or separate himself from these actions entirely. If Peter would not
accept this act of love, then he really didn't understand how much Jesus loved them. John, as
usual, plays on the meaning of a word, this time clean. They, the disciples, are not made just
physically clean but spiritually as well.
The final verses reemphasize the need for the disciples to follow the example of their master and
teacher. Jesus has given them a model to follow. This action in symbol will be explained in depth
in the discourses that John will include as part of the Last Supper event. Jesus had given himself
in symbol to all of them and they in turn must give themselves to others.
(Fr. Ver Bust is professor emeritus in religious studies at St. Norbert College, De Pere.)