In school many of us were told that if, as students, we did not understand anything, we need to ask. However, the reality is that many of us do not ask, or perhaps it was just me? The fear was not the teachers but rather being ridiculed by fellow classmates or even being made to look unintelligent in front of others. We are afraid of being judged by others. I am sure many of us because of self-consciousness can recall pretending to understand and then later, away from the crowd privately asking a friend to explain.
In the gospel today, we hear Jesus telling Simon Peter, “At the moment you do not know what I am doing, but later you will understand” (Jn 13:7). Perhaps Simon Peter felt agitated at not being able to understand what Jesus intended to do – to wash his feet, an act that was done upon arrival at a home and not when everyone was in the midst of a meal. Moreover, it was an act assigned to servants at that time. It surely would have been easier if Jesus had told Simon Peter what was going to happen in the next couple of days. It would have made it easier for Peter to accept what was to come, but that was not meant to be.
The significance of the mystery of the passion, death and resurrection will only be unfolded after these things have taken place. Not just the washing of the feet, but the whole passion of Jesus will demonstrate His self-abasement which is in fact His expression of love. It was no ordinary love but by doing this, “He showed how perfect His love was”. This symbolic action of foot-washing starts off the confusion and disillusionment of the disciples, starting with Simon Peter.
Who could have imagined that any of this would happen? It is precisely what the human mind could not comprehend that God reveals His love. God’s love for us is indeed beyond comprehension. In the midst of not understating, Jesus tells His disciples, “I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.” No one dared to ask Jesus what did He mean and perhaps they were fearful of being ridiculed by their companions for being the “only one” who did not understand. On this Holy Thursday, I would like to anchor my reflection on the words of Jesus, “At the moment you do not know what I am doing, but later you will understand”.
Often many of us think that in order to trust, we need to fully understand but the evening before the Passover, Jesus teaches an important lesson not just to His disciples but also to all who call him ‘Master and Lord’ that the path of discipleship involves trusting Jesus now and understanding Him later – not something that many of us are comfortable to do. We have heard it being said that ‘life is not a bed of roses’ and when we feel its thorns we need to remember Jesus’ words to Peter: “At the moment you do not know what I am doing, but later you will understand”.
No one likes uncertainty as it causes anxiety but by washing the feet of His disciples, apart from showing His love for them, Jesus wanted His disciples to trust Him even though they did not understand. In reliving this moment today, God also wants us to trust Him, and not grumble or question in unbelief (cf. Phil 2:14). The prophet Isaiah tells us that God’s ways are not our ways (cf. Isa 55:8). God’s purposes for bringing or not bringing certain things to pass often extend far beyond our understanding. Most often it is not that we do not trust God, but it would be easier if we could see the bigger picture that God sees.
Just as God had a plan for Jesus, He has a plan for us all but we need to learn how to trust God in all things. Just as Peter presumably understood after the resurrection, we may need to be patient to understand. In the meantime, the Eucharist that we celebrate is a clear reminder that God is with us even when the thorns are shaper than the sweet-smelling roses that comes our way in life. God always offers us salvation and the cross of Jesus is the testimony of this.
Maundy Thursday (1 April 2021)