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After he had washed the disciples’ feet, Jesus said, ‘Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But it is to fulfil the scripture, “The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.” I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am he. Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.’
Today’s reading takes us back to Maundy Thursday and the Last Supper. When we think of that great event in the last twenty-four hours of Jesus’ life we are often tempted to focus on the superficial. So much goes on: Jesus washes his disciples feet; Jesus gives the new commandment of love for one another; Judas leaves the meal to betray Jesus to the religious authorities; Jesus institutes Holy Communion; Jesus moves from the meal to his time of Agony in the Garden. On one night there is so much for us to take in. The danger is that our attention is grabbed by the headlines and not the detail. Today we are asked to consider just one part of the detail we may have missed.
Jesus said: servants are not greater than their master.
These words are said just after Jesus has washed his disciples’ feet, and just after he has told his disciples to do the same. Jesus is making it clear that all who would call themselves his disciples, his followers, are called to get down on their knees and carry out the most menial of tasks, just as he has done.
Every year, as part of the Maundy Thursday liturgy, deacons, priests and bishops, emulate Jesus’ action. They tie towels around themselves, they get down on their knees and they wash feet. Sometimes this is done in the form of offering to polish shoes for passers-by in a shopping centre, but that is not quite the same. There is an intimacy and a humility involved in the act of washing a stranger’s feet that is not replicated in the less personal polishing of shoes.
I know from my own experience that this moment in the Church’s year is very powerful and very moving. I also know that many would-be recipients of this ministry struggle with it. The baring of one’s feet in order that they might be washed, albeit in a ritual sense, is too much for many. Embarrassment overrides humility. It is too easy to say, ‘You shouldn’t be doing that’. It is too easy to refuse the love and service proffered by Jesus, our Lord and Saviour.
Jesus tells us that all who would claim kinship with him must be prepared to do as he does: servants are not greater than their master. Furthermore, Jesus makes it clear that he, our Master, is prepared to offer total love through the most menial of actions. It is our vocation to do exactly the same. Let us pray for the strength and the humility to be faithful servants of our loving and serving Master.