Brian J. Pierce, OP – Santa Sabina, Rome, 2013
Gestures. Jesus’ life was full of gestures, symbolic gestures.
Early in the gospels he reaches out to touch and heal a leper – a beautiful gesture, though illegal, inaugurating his ministry of mercy. He sits down to eat with tax collectors and sinners, inviting Matthew to be his disciple, and announcing to all that for God, nothing is impossible.
He anoints blind eyes with mud with spittle, mixing earth with Word: a new creation. He reaches out to heal a man with a paralyzed hand – in the middle of the synagogue – on the Sabbath day … another religiously illegal act that liberates. Religion, for Jesus, must be Good News. Twice Jesus bends down next to the woman accused of adultery, ready to be stoned in solidarity with her, in order to proclaim the supremacy of God’s mercy.
Jesus drives out of the Temple those who turn God’s House into a money-making enterprise. For Jesus, religion is not a business. He recognizes the “great love” of a woman, known by all to be a sinner, who anoints his feet with tears and ointment – a gesture of love and devotion.
But it is precisely in these final days of his life that we find his most powerful and important gestures. Let us look for a moment at how the scripture writers describe Jesus’ actions, gestures and words in these final days of his life:
“They threw their cloaks over the colt, and helped Jesus to mount. As he rode along, the people spread their cloaks on the road…”
Quoting from an ancient hymn, St. Paul says, “He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness…”
“Jesus took his place at table with the apostles” … and also with us.
“During the supper … Jesus rose … took off his outer garments [and] tied a towel around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet…”
“When he had washed their feet … he asked, ‘Do you realize what I have done for you?’ … Do we understand what he is doing? Are we ready to follow his command: “Do this in memory of me?”
He took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them… “This is my body, that is for you” … And likewise the cup … saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be poured out for you…” His body becomes food, his side, wounded by hatred, a chalice.
“One of the disciples struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear.” “But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies.’”
To one of the criminals, crucified with him, Jesus replied, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.
Simple Gestures: touching, washing, anointing, bending down, eating…
Gestures that announce life: breaking bread, pouring wine, emptying himself, handing over his spirit.
All of these gestures, point in some way to a downward movement, an action of self-giving. God’s Word leaps from heaven and comes down to earth to live with us. Jesus bends down before humanity in a gesture of solidarity. Jesus comes down from the Mount of the Transfiguration to continue his journey to Jerusalem.
Pope Francis, on the evening of his election, bowed his head before the crowd gathered in St. Peter Square, asking the People of God to pray for him. Today he celebrates mass with young people in the jail for minors in Rome. Gestures; simple gestures, that announce the Reign of God.
The Word of God becomes a human word Solidarity, Humility, Bread broken. Wine poured out. Today Jesus bends down to wash our feet. Life, Love, Crucifixion and Death…
But above all, love. There is no greater love than this...