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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.’
Jesus said: ‘… servants are not greater than their master …’
From the earliest of times humanity has organized itself into hierarchical structures. Those who are deemed to have the strongest attributes have risen to the top, and everyone else has either willingly or grudgingly accepted the status quo. For thousands of years the main attribute for a leader was physical strength and ruthlessness. Slowly, and over a very long period of time, the predominance of physical strength became tempered with a realisation that the qualities of leadership required intellectual capacity, and even compassion.
Today we seem to be in a different place. In many parts of the world those who rise to the top of the tree are those who are most eloquent in their rhetoric. As democracy has developed since the times of the ancient Greeks, the use of words has become increasingly important. Unfortunately, this shift has still not produced the ideal system for selecting the most suitable people to lead others. As aspiring politicians climb the greasy pole to the top of government we often find ourselves asking questions about suitability and merit. Then, as we look around the world, we can see that the alternative can still be one of deceit and brute force. We consider ourselves fortunate, cast our votes, and let the cycle run its course once again.
Jesus speaks of human hierarchy in today’s reading. He says that servants are not greater than their master. As we pause to reflect upon these words we would do well to consider the world of the gospel narrative. At the top of the societal tree of Jerusalem in Jesus’ time we find a duplicitous High Priest, a politically astute Roman Governor, and a fickle mob. All of these people control those weaker than themselves through brute force. Then, if we look at their ‘opponent’, that one man we know as Jesus, the Son of God, we see honesty, truth, tolerance and hope. But, Jesus is just one man, whose counter-cultural teaching was seen as a threat to the powerful and self-interested. This, of course, led to the agents of the leaders nailing Jesus’ hands and feet to a cross. But, as we know, that was not the end of the story. Jesus was the one who would conquer death and assume his rightful place at God’s right hand. Jesus, through the grace of God, proved himself to be the true master … the one we should really be following.
Today we are challenged to make our choice. Who do we choose as our master? Do we choose to follow the weasel-words of our human leaders or the divine truth of the Son of God? The choice is ours!