Holy Thursday

John’s Gospel tells us: “Jesus knew that His hour had come” (Jn 13:1). St. Thomas Aquinas comments: “It was foreseen and not fortuitous… He is saying in effect; Jesus suffered knowingly and willingly, not unexpectedly and unwillingly. ‘Jesus, knowing all that was to befall him’ (Jn 18:4) (Commentary on John, 1732).

Thomas points out that Jesus’ death was determined to be on the feast of the Passover:

It was fitting to this Jewish feast that the reality follows the symbol, that is, that when the lamb, which was a symbol of Christ, was sacrificed, Christ, who was truly the Lamb of God, should be immolated. ‘You know that you were ransomed…not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot’ (1 Pet 1:18-19) (1733).

Thomas emphasizes the great good that was brought about by the Passion: “The passion of Christ was a source of benefits and glory, not of defeat, because it was in order that he could depart out of this world to the Father, by making his human nature a partaker in the glory of the Father” (1733).

John states: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (Jn 13:1). Thomas comments:

His love was first, ’Not that we have loved God, but that he has first loved us’ [1 Jn 4:10]. And as to this he says, having loved his own, trying to suggest that this was in advance of our love. I say he loved us before he created us: ‘For You love all things that exist, and have loathing for none of the things which thou hast made’ (Wis 11:24). He loved us before he called us: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have drawn you, taking pity on you [Jer 31:3]. And he loved us before he redeemed us: ‘There is no greater love than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (‘Jn 15:13) (1735).

John attests, “the devil has already put it into the heart of Judas” (Jn 13:2). Thomas explains, “Only one who has the power to move our will from within can put something into our heart. Only God can do this; consequently, he alone can directly move our will” (1342). Others can present an external object as something good and thus move the heart indirectly. The devil may put a suggestion into our imagination through images when we are awake or asleep, because, according to Thomas, “Our imagination is a physical reality.” Only God can actually move our will. The devil only suggests things, indirectly, in our imagination.

Thomas believes that Jesus washed Judas’ feet: “the better to show the wonderful love of Christ who, although knowing this, treated him with love and humility by washing his feet” (1742). This reminds Thomas of the words of the psalm: “With those who hated peace I was peaceable” [Ps 120:7].

John declares: “The Father had given all things into his hands” (Jn 13:3). Thomas explains: “God gave, in time, to Christ as man, what was in the power of the Son from eternity: ‘All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me’ (Mt 28:18) (1743). John demonstrates Jesus’ dignity: “He had come from God and was going to God” (Jn13:3). Thomas reflects that Jesus’ dignity manifests his holiness:

… his holiness, because he was going to God, for our holiness lies in our going to God. He mentions this because since Christ is going to God, it is special to him to lead others to God. This is done especially by humility and love; and so he offers them an example of humility and love (1743).

Thomas points out that Jesus not only washed the disciples’ feet but even dried them as well: “Since he who had come from God and was going to God is now washing the feet of others, he is treading underfoot the universal tendency to pride” (1745).

Thomas relates Jesus’ taking off his garments and wrapping himself with a towel with the Incarnation because Jesus emptied himself and took the form of a servant (Phil 2:7) (1746). Thomas observes that Jesus’ action was very lowly, “since the Lord of majesty stooped down to wash the feet of his servants” (1747).

Peter tried to stop Jesus from cleaning his feet. Thomas draws a lesson for us:

He refused something that was beneficial and necessary; for as we read: ‘We do not know how to pray as we ought’ (Rom 8:26). And so it is imprudent to refuse what God gives us, even if it seems disadvantageous. Paul too asked to be freed from his thorn (2 Cor 12:8), yet it was for his benefit. Again, it seemed to indicate a certain disrespect for Christ by wanting to go against his plans (1758).

After Jesus had washed the feet of the disciples, he returned to his place. Thomas notes: “The reason for this is that teaching should be done in an atmosphere of serenity, and it is by sitting and being quiet that the soul becomes wise and discerning (1770).

Jesus told the disciples, “You ought to wash one another’s feet” (Jn 13:14). Thomas asserts that this is a “precept,” which should be carried out. Thomas concurs with Augustine’s opinion:

And it is much better, and true beyond argument, that one should do this in a physical way, so that a Christian will not consider it beneath him to do what Christ did. For when a person stoops down to the feet of his neighbor, humility is awakened in his heart, or if already there it is made stronger (1779).

Thomas allows that it might not be possible to do this in a physical way: “If one cannot do this in a physical way, it should at least be done in one’s heart. When feet are washed, their stains are washed away. So we wash the feet of our neighbors in a spiritual way when, as far as we can, we wash away their moral stains” (1779).

Thomas offers a couple of ways that we might do this:  “The first way is by forgiving their offenses, as in “And if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col 3:13)” (1779). One who is ordained may do this by forgiving sins sacramentally.

Another possibility is through prayer: “Another way is by praying because of their sins, according to ‘Pray for one another, that you may be healed’ (Jas 5:16)” (1779).

Thomas concludes that Jesus is encouraging us to do works of mercy for each other:

We can also say that by this action our Lord pointed out all the works of mercy. For one who gives bread to the hungry washes his feet, as does one who practices hospitality, or gives food to one in need; and so on for the other works. ‘Contribute to the needs of the saints (Rom 12:13) (1779).

Thomas points out that Jesus taught by example:

For when we are dealing with the conduct of people, example has more influence than words. A person chooses and does what seems good to him, and so what one chooses is a better indication of what is good than what one teaches should be chosen. This is why when someone says one thing and does another, what he does has more influence on others than what he has taught. Thus it is especially necessary to give example by one’s actions (1781).

Jesus is our model:

Note that the Son of God is a fitting and sufficient example for us. For he is the art of the Father, and just as he was the model or pattern for everything created, so he was the model for our justification: “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps” (1 Pet 2:21) (1781).

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

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