Today as we begin the Triduum, the most sacred moment of the liturgical year, the gospel reading tells us that Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. What is this hour that Jesus speaks of? Scholars tell us that it’s the hour of salvation, the moment determined by the Father when the work of salvation will be fulfilled. And in the very next verse, we learn what this means. It’s the hour of loving to the end…of loving to the extreme in a very personal, intimate way.
Jesus, aware of the significance of this moment, acts in a surprising, even scandalous way. He, the Son of God, now becomes the servant of all, the least of all, the one who washes the dirt off the feet of his disciples, the one who offers refreshment and comfort to tired, aching feet. But his service isn’t a blanket act that allows him to care for everyone at once. No, he goes one by one, person by person, down on his knees, touching each one with tenderness, looking with extraordinary love into the eyes of each one, communicating even before using words: You are my friend. You are precious and I love you. Let me show you how to love.
I’m part of a L’Arche community in Bethlehem, in the Holy Land. L’Arche is an international federation of communities that bring together people with and without intellectual disabilities to share life and create communities of welcome where each person’s unique gifts can be shared and celebrated. Not so long ago, Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche, came to visit. We went together to a residential institution for people with disabilities where Jean gave a brief talk to the people who live there, many of whom have complex physical and intellectual disabilities. Jean told stories of his experience in community and spoke to them of the importance of every human life. I was translating his words into Arabic, and when he said, “And each one of you is a beloved child of God, each one of you is precious,” I had to signal to Jean to wait a minute before continuing his talk because as soon as I translated the words, “each one of you is precious,” Ahmad, a young man in a wheelchair who has a profound disability and who had been listening intently, asked: “Even me? Am I precious?” And Jean replied, “Yes, Ahmad, even you.”
In some ways, I think Ahmad’s reaction is much like that of Peter when Jesus begins to wash his feet. He’s confused. There’s something that just doesn’t make sense. Ahmad had a lifetime of being rejected over and over again. His experience told him that he wasn’t of any value, he was worth less than other people who didn’t have a disability. And then when someone looks at him with love and affirms that, in fact, he is of infinite value, his life is forever changed. He’s no longer on the margins but has somehow been invited, through love, to enter into relationship with others and to offer his unique gift.
Peter, too, is confused. Not only because Jesus, the Master, has now become a servant. He’s even more confused by this intimate gesture of love through which he experiences that, in the eyes of Jesus, he is indeed precious. It’s almost too much to bear. “No! You will never wash my feet,” he says. But Jesus seems to be saying, “I wash your feet to show you that I love you, that you are of infinite value. Yes, even you, Peter. Unless I wash your feet, unless you accept my love, we can no longer be friends, you can have nothing in common with me.”
On this dark night before he is crucified, Jesus reveals the depth of his love and invites his disciples into a new kind of intimacy, the intimacy of friendship expressed in communion and service. And he says, “I have given you a model to follow.”
So the question for us this evening is, Can we say yes to Jesus’ invitation? Can we choose to love to the utmost? To engage humbly with one person at a time, to offer refreshment and tenderness to the weary soul, to look with extraordinary love into the eyes of the person in front of us, and convey that they are of infinite value? If, indeed, this is possible, then we will know that the hour of salvation has come.
Kathy has lived most of the past 35 years in Bethlehem, in the Holy Land. As a member of L’Arche, she is responsible for the mission of L’Arche in Palestine and was instrumental in supporting the creation of a community in Bethlehem. L’Arche is an international federation of communities, founded by Jean Vanier, that brings together people with and without intellectual disabilities to share life and create communities of welcome where each person’s unique gifts can be shared and celebrated.
The community of L’Arche in Bethlehem is a unique and fertile ground for life-giving friendships within a context of tremendous diversity – young people and those not so young, people with intellectual disabilities and those without, people from refugee camps and rural villages and those from cities, Muslims and Christians. It’s a place of peace, joy, and beauty within a context of military occupation that can often be violent, depressing, and sometimes very ugly.
Kathy was born in Washington, DC, the youngest of eight children in a Lebanese-American family. It was after graduating from Boston College in 1981, doing some volunteer work in a village in Galilee, and then receiving a master’s degree in psychology that her experience in L’Arche began in 1985 in Palestine. She has been faithfully supported over the years by her home community of L’Arche Toronto.
Trained in the Ignatian spiritual tradition, Kathy is also engaged in the ministry of spiritual accompaniment and retreat direction and has found her spiritual home in the Secular Institute of the Heart of Jesus.