Some Thoughts on a Thursday Evening a Long Time Ago
His time had come. And his first action was to go and fetch a bowl. What did he begin to do in the cenacle when he knew his time to die had come? He rose from the table, tore himself from the comfort of conversation and food, and washed feet.
What should a man who is about to die do? Write a last testament? Leave a will? But Jesus bent over a bowl of water, removing the dirt from the feet of his friends. He washes in silence, bending over feet that have traversed the dusty roads of Palestine.
He began saving us from below, from the level of our feet. He would dominate us from above, from the bloody beam – but that was yet to come.
How could he have loved our feet? Feet are miles away from their owner’s smiles, feet are rough, wild animals, and looking at a foot makes it harder to believe in a man’s soul.
Peter, the impetuous Peter, cries out – you’ll never wash my feet. O fisherman, we know what you are saying but we are here before a mystery that none of us understand. Yes, your feet are dirty, and in a sense, ridiculous. But there was someone else who loved your feet a long time ago.
It’s precisely through surrendering all our pride to the hands of Christ-as-mother, through identifying him bent over that bowl with her who scrubbed us clean, that our salvation must pass. If I don’t wash you, you’ll have no part with me.
Let’s all become mothers, creatures with no feelings of revulsion. It is by accepting Christ-as-mother, that we become like little children for whom the Kingdom is a reality.
If I had to choose some relic of the passion, I wouldn’t pick up a scourge or a spear but that bowl of dirty water. To go around the world with that receptacle under my arm, looking only at feet. And then I would not know who my friends or who my enemies are because I would not raise my eyes above their ankles. Now, I would have no enemies. And I would this in silence, until they understood. I haven’t the gift of turning bread into flesh, but I can pick up my bowl of water and love.
After the washing, they reclined at the table as the hour of doom got ever closer.
Can’t you see his eyes wandering over the table with the heavy thought that he would be separated from them. His eyes alight on the bread scattered on the table and inspiration comes to him – this is where I will hide and stay with them as they and many after them journey in the world.
That night, they wouldn’t capture him totally, in his entirety – they’d think they had separated him from his disciples. But they will have failed because he would be hidden in bread. So he stretched out his hand over the bread and pronounced the words that have never been silenced – This is my body, it’s been given for you.
A little earlier Jesus had dirtied himself by washing their feet. Now, he wanted to do more. He wanted to go down their throats, to the point of transforming himself into their bodies. The primary significance of the eucharist is not mystical but physical. Jesus does not say – This is my spirit or This is generalized goodness or well-being. They would not have understood that, and neither do we. That’s why he looked over the table-cloth for something that is necessary for all of us and his eyes alit upon the simple, unadorned bread. He knew that people forget but in the breaking of bread, they will always remember and experience.
This is the cup of my blood shed for you for the remission of sins.
We’ve no means of discovering the relationship between sin and blood. But the wine had become blood, but blood outside the body, speaks of violence and tragedy. He calls on all of us – All of you, drink – and the disciples realized – the wine no longer tasted of wine.
Anyone spying through the window would have thought no place on earth was sweeter, no harmony more enviable, no brotherliness greater. And yet, and yet…
Suddenly, without changing his tone, Jesus added: One of you will betray me, one of you now eating with me… The storm had been set in motion. One man was lost, a tragedy was about to be enacted which is more serious than all the wars and lamentations since Adam. And the question loomed – who is it? Eleven Judases sharing the pallor of the Iscariot asked – Is it I?
Only one of them had his doubts dissolved immediately – he did not need to ask – is it I. Christ’s hand dipped a morsel of bread and stretched, without tremor, towards the plate on his left. O hand, stop! But, on went thehand, on went the bread, and down onto the plate . Bread played such a central role in the evening’s drama – eucharist of life and forgiveness and also the eucharist of condemnation and death. The man on the left picked up the bread, chewed it, and swallowed. And the Evangelist writes: Satan entered him. The one who entered him closed all his pores to love, dimmed his eyes to the faces of his friends. Satan – the being without memory and hope – filled Judas with the courage to do what he had set out to do.
Judas got up, opened the door and went out. The night neither frightened him nor allured him. The night was like an ameba that surrounded him and swallowed him and he and the night became one. Indistinguishable.
It had begun.