The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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April 14, 2000 Issue
Fr. Ver Bust's Column:
"Explaining the Gospel"

Fr. Richard Ver Bust
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 Supper.

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 before.

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.)

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