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.”
We have now reached a turning-point in John's gospel. Jesus’ public ministry is finished, and he is entering the phase of his passion and death. A scholar wrote, "In the first part of the gospel, which here closes, Jesus lives in complete obedience to the Father; in the second part he will die in the same obedience."
We are at the Last Supper, and he has just washed the disciples’ feet. This reversed the normal practice: it was a courtesy for a disciple to wash a rabbi’s feet. Particularly because of the moment in which it was done, this was a very compelling teaching. Like the Eucharist, it would be remembered forever. In John’s gospel there is no account of the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. Instead there is the washing of feet. When Jesus sat down again he said, in approximately similar words, “Do this in memory of me.” It is the Eucharist overflowing into practice.
The feet are the lowliest part of the body in a literal sense, and the farthest away from the head. And they are the most truthful, because they are farthest from the mouth. They are willing to go where hands would disdain to go; and when we touch something with the foot we haven't really established any personal contact with it. Yes, the feet are the most disowned part of the body. Yet they are our most fundamental and on-going contact with reality. And they are not the insensitive clods that they may appear to be: they are so highly sensitive that a foot-massage affects the whole body.
“If I do this for you,” he said, “so should you for one another.” The washing of feet stands symbolically for every lowly service we can perform for one another.
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