Acts 13:13-25; Jn 13:16-20
In that first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, Luke shows the way St. Paul did his missionary work. Upon arriving in a new town, his method was first to go to one of the local synagogues and bring the gospel message to the folks who, by heritage, were most entitled to it, his fellow Jews. After the readings of that Sabbath from the scrolls of the Law and the prophets, the leader would ask if the visitor had any message for the congregation. Did he ever! As Luke tells it regarding Paul’s visit to this synagogue in the town of Antioch in Pisidia, Paul got up and presented a thumb-nail summary of the history of the people of Israel—with the surprise ending that the whole thing had been climaxed by the life, death, and resurrection (!) of a craftsman from Nazareth—Jesus! That was a turn of events that no one had expected. There were plenty of expectations about a future anointed servant of God, but none that matched the kind of Messiah that Jesus turned out to be.
The words that we hear in the Gospel of John today express an important aspect of that surprise climax of God’s story with Israel—what Jesus is about is summarized in the simple and stunning gesture of the Master washing his disciples’ feet.
“I solemnly assure you, no slave is greater than his master; no messenger outranks the one who sent him. Once you know all these things, blest will you be if you put them into practice.” What do such words mean when they come right after the Master has just acted like a slave by washing their feet? It means that the disciples (the learners) are called to stoop to the level of the teacher, who does the work of the servant.
The history of Israel climaxes with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus—and Jesus dares to summarize the meaning of that life with the act of a servant. The consequences are obvious and challenging: our life as Christians is to be summarized in our own acts of service as well. Whatever we do—as parents, teachers, children, students, artists, workers, bureaucrats, health professionals, or whatever—is meant to be a way of serving one another. What room is there, then, for cynicism, competition or arrogance? None.
By Dennis Hamm