Homily for April 21, 2016: John 13:16-20.
Jesus’ words in today’s gospel reading immediately follow his washing of the apostles’ feet. Feet shod only in sandals got dirty on the dusty roads of
. It was customary, therefore, for a
host to provide water for arriving guests to wash their own feet. Jesus went
beyond this gesture of hospitality. By washing his friends’ feet himself, he
gives them an example of humble service which they must be prepared to imitate.
How little the Twelve heeded and followed this example, we learn from Luke’s gospel, which says that at the Last Supper “a dispute arose among them about who should be regarded as greatest” (22:24). After the foot-washing, therefore, Jesus goes on to speak about what he has just done.
“No slave is greater than his master,” Jesus says, “nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him.” Down through the centuries many of Jesus’ followers have recognized this, and acted accordingly. Jesus directs his words to them when he says: “If you understand this, blessed [which means “happy”] are you if you do it.” Sadly, there also many who have acted as masters themselves, rather than as servants, conceiving of priesthood as a career, not as service. Knowing that there was one at table with him there at the Last Supper, who in his heart had already rejected his servant role, Jesus quotes a verse from Psalm 41: “The one who ate my food has raised his heel against me.”
Then, to encourage those truly resolved in their hearts to be and to remain his servants, Jesus says: “Amen, amen,” [which means “solemnly”] I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me.” Which one of us would not be thrilled to receive Jesus in person? A recent e-mail from a Philippine deacon now in
, soon to be ordained priest, had the
words “A great grace” in the subject line. It told about his being able to
greet Pope Francis personally at the end of an audience for seminarians. Rome
Jesus was telling his apostles that those to whom he was sending them would be no less thrilled than my Philippine friend. Jesus concludes by saying: “Whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” Every encounter with Jesus is an encounter with God himself.