Stay and Pray
Homily for the Maundy Thursday Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper
Preached on March 24, 2016 at Jesus Our Savior Catholic Church, Morehead KY
Readings: Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14; Psalm 116:12-13, 15-16bc, 17-18; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-15
In a typical Filipino home, shoes and sandals are left right by the door; they are never worn inside the house. This helps to isolate the dirt brought from the outside to one small corner and keeps the rest of the house clean. Most folks simply walk barefoot on their floor. The well-to-do, however, prefer to wear their slippers.
Guests are the only ones who are excused from this domestic rule. A host will even go so far as to insist that his visitors keep their shoes on. On the one hand, he is letting them know that they need not worry about anything under his roof, not even the household rules. They need not mind the mess that they might be making; he will take care of cleaning up after them. But, on the other hand, he is also reminding his guests not get too comfortable. He expects them to leave his home at some point, at their convenience of course, and to take their dirty footwear with them.
Guests get to keep their shoes on or their sandals strapped because they are not expected to stay. They are just visiting, stopping by, passing through before they head to some other place.
It is this notion of heading somewhere else that the Lord wanted the people of Israel to keep in mind when He instructed them to keep their sandals strapped, their loins girt, and their staff in hand as they ate the Passover meal (cf. Ex. 12:11). They were to “eat like those who are in flight” (Ex. 12:11). The Lord did not want them to get too comfortable with where they were because He was going to lead them out of Egypt and take them to a place where they would no longer be slaves.
Yet, on this night, when all of Israel recalled how God delivered them out of slavery, God delivered Himself to slavery. “Though He was in the form of God… [Jesus] emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave (Phil. 2:6-7): “He rose from supper and took off His outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around His waist. Then He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around His waist” (Jn. 13:4-5). The washing of feet was menial work that was not done by a superior; it was a job assigned to a slave. Still, the Master did not think Himself too high to do something so lowly (cf. Jn. 13:13-14). This is what makes our God so great: that He allows Himself to be so small.
But, for Jesus to have washed their feet, the disciples would also have had to take off their sandals. They would have had to remove one of the things that made them ready to take flight into the night. They did not realize then that, by doing this, the Lord was already reassuring them that they need not run away, that their hearts need not be troubled (cf. Jn. 14:1), that He would deliver them again as He had delivered them way back when. In taking off their sandals and in washing their feet, the Lord was appealing to His disciples not to leave as abruptly as they later would after His arrest. He was inviting them to stay and pray, to remain with Him and keep watch through the night (cf. Mt. 26:36, 38; Mk. 14:32, 34).
On this night of His agony in the garden, the Lord extends to us that same invitation to take off our shoes, to leave them by the door, to remain with Him and keep watch (cf. Mt. 26:38; Mk. 14:34). The questions raised then are the same ones that we are asked now: Who among us are the ones who, instead of lowering to serve and wash feet, would rather lord their authority over others and trample them underfoot (cf. Lk. 22:25)? Who among us are the ones whose shoes and sandals would get so mucked up by their haste to get out of here?
As every disciple new and old would protest, “Surely, it is not I, Lord?” (Mt. 26:22; Mk. 14:19).