Recognizing Jesus: A Holy Thursday Homily by Deacon Alan Doty

What image do you have of Jesus? How do you recognize him in your life? Or better yet, how do you honor and love him in your life?

I read a story about some scientists who attempted to create a realistic 3-D image of the face of Christ. They started with the should of Turin, which many people believe is the burial cloth that Jesus was wrapped in as he was laid in the tomb.

The result is the face of a young man with long hair, a beard, with scars and blood stains around his brow. The computer estimates that he’d be about 5’8″. He looks heavier, more muscular than most artists imagine him. But he otherwise looks very much the way any of us might imagine Jesus looked at the time of his death.

Jesus was, and is, present to us in very physical ways. We know that he is both God and human, and his human life is what we read about in the Gospels. Many artists, from times past and up to today, have tried to capture his image in paintings, sculptures, frescos, and even poetry and music. These things demonstrate the artists’ devotion to our Lord and are often useful in our own devotions.

Through the Gospels, we have learned to recognize Jesus on the cross, asking his father to forgive us. Forgive us because we could not recognize the Son of God. We honor Jesus at the last supper, stooping to wash away the dirt of the Apostles’ feet.  We recognize Jesus as he offers his body and blood as food, at the Last Supper, and Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, sweating tears of blood. At Christmas, we see and honor Jesus as an infant, with the shepherds and wise man gathered around, and Jesus in the womb of his mother Mary as she travelled to Bethlehem with Joseph.

We recognize Jesus in his human body, of course, but we also love him in his actions and words. His every action and word are given us for instruction. We see Jesus, in art and also in our prayers, as the good shepherd, or a teacher preaching to his followers. We meditate on Jesus walking on the water, Jesus feeding the 5,000. In each of these actions we recognize, honor and love our Lord.

Jesus in his wisdom and grace, taught us to recognize, love and honor him in other ways. He taught us to see him in the poor and outcast when he told us that whatever you do to the least of these, you do unto him. He taught us to see him in each other when he gave us a new commandment: just as I have loved you, you are to love one another.

As Catholics, we recognize Jesus in the Church. Jesus promised an intimate communion between him and those who would follow him when he said: “Abide in me, and I in you. . . . I am the vine, you are the branches.” We acknowledge the Church as the body of Christ with Jesus as its head (Col 1:18). St. Joan of Arc said it best: “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing, and we shouldn’t complicate the matter.”

We recognize, love and honor Jesus in the sacraments. We feel his love when he joins us to himself and to his father as adopted children of God in baptism. We see him sending us the Holy Spirit to strengthen us and teach us all things in the sacrament of confirmation.

We recognize Jesus in the sacrament of reconciliation. In reconciliation, Jesus stoops to wash the dirt from our feet, just as he washed the feet of the disciples at the Last Supper. No wonder Jesus asked, ‘Do you realize what I have done for you?’

At the Last Supper that we commemorate tonight, Jesus gave us a new and wonderful way to recognize him. He taught the apostles to recognize him in the body and blood offered on that night. What the apostles received from the Lord they handed on to us, so we too recognize Jesus in the sacrifice offered here on this altar at the hands of Fr. Jean Pierre and at the hands of priests throughout the world and throughout time. Jesus taught us to love and honor him, body, blood soul and divinity, in the blessed sacrament of the Eucharist that we all share in.

What a glorious gift our Lord has left us – his body and blood as our food and drink!

Our Lord Jesus Christ, eternal and divine, fulfills and makes one… all space and time, physical and spiritual realities. The one Jesus our Lord is an infant in Bethlehem and the also resurrected Christ. Jesus is the Church on earth and the kingdom of heaven that is to come. Jesus is our brother, and he is present in the sacraments.

It makes no sense to refuse to recognize Jesus in one reality and expect to recognize him in another. If you don’t recognize him washing your feet in the sacrament of reconciliation it will be very hard to recognize him as the head of the Church. If we fail to recognize Jesus in Mary’s womb at the annunciation, then how do you recognize the same Jesus as the risen Christ?

And if you do not see and honor Jesus in your brother, in your enemy, in the outcast, in the weak and the poor, if you do not love him in the atheist, the addict, and the aged, if you do not love him in the person you see in the mirror, it will be very hard to love him in the body and blood offered at each and every Mass.

The opposite is true, maybe more so.  If you fail to love Jesus body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist then it is hard, I might say impossible, to love and honor him in your neighbor. He is the same Lord in both realities.

How do you honor and love Jesus in your life? He who is before all things, and in whom all things hold together. (Col 1:17) . We see him, love him, and honor him, not rejecting any of what he has taught us.

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