Wednesday, May 10, 2017


Homily for May 11th, 2017: 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 Palestine. 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 some who act as masters themselves, rather than as servants, conceiving of priesthood as a career, not as service. Knowing that there was one such follower 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 in Rome, 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.  

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 accepts anyone I send accepts me, and in accepting me, accepts him who sent me.”