Today’s Gospel from John begins as Jesus had just finished washing the feet of his disciples. Jesus then said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him” (Jn 13:16). Jesus not only taught the truth that God the Father sent his Son to serve and not be served, he modeled this practice consistently.
From his conception, gestation, and birth, the Son of God developed as a human being in the very simplest of conditions and endured the hardships of those on the margins. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were political refugees very soon after his birth. The young family was forced to flee from Bethlehem to Egypt. When Herod the Great died they returned to Nazareth, and other than the incident in the Temple, we hear nothing about the life of Jesus until he begins his public ministry. The most likely reason for this was that there was nothing to tell. Jesus most likely apprenticed with Joseph, in the trade of a simple tektōn, a woodworker, which was pretty low on the rung of the social ladder.
Through the short time of his ministry, Jesus modeled for his disciples what a follower of his entailed and what it meant to be one of his successors. To follow in his footsteps they would need to participate in servant leadership. He not only taught them but lived and modeled that there is no task too menial that we can’t roll up our sleeves and dive in to help. There is no person too other that we can’t assist when they are in a need.
A good prayer and meditation for us today is to ask Jesus to reveal for us how we have resisted his urgings in the past regarding serving others as well as when we have refused to interact or treat someone with anything less than the basic human dignity which they deserved. Have we ever thought that what he was asking of us was beneath us? Have there been people we have kept at arm’s length or refused to reach out to? For those ways in which we have withdrawn within ourselves and refused to be of help may we ask for his forgiveness.
Being willing to allow Jesus to shed some light on our lack of embracing opportunities to serve is a good place to begin. Then renewed with his forgiveness and healing touch, may we be more willing to be bearers of the understanding, grace and mercy which we have received. May we be more open to each of the people and/or tasks that God will place before us, the discernment to know his will, and the clarity and courage to act as his servant with humility and without hesitation.
Photo: Grounds work during my novitiate year with the Franciscans in Brookline, MA around 1992.