of the passion. So it is with that backdrop that James and John coming looking for specialstatus in Jesus' future glory. The extent of their complete incomprehension is baffling butJesus shows great patience with them and points out that they will indeed share his future butthe glory they seek is not his to give. It would be heartening to think that the other ten wereannoyed with James and John for the folly of their question but it might be more realistic tobelieve their concern was that they might have been upstaged by the other two. So whenJesus gathers them around him it is to tell them once again that in the kingdom of God theexercise of power bears no resemblance to what takes place in the world around them. Truegreatness lies in service and their model for this is Jesus himself.
1. The values of the kingdom are exactly opposite to those of the world of power politics,social climbing, and vain display. We all know this, yet generations come and generations goby, and we still import titles of honour, displays of prestige, and even the jargon of imperialRome, the cursus honorum, into the church. The pope may take the title 'servant of theservants', but a look at the pomp and circumstance surrounding the papal ceremonies suggeststhat the need for a power display outweighs theology. Bishops are to be servants, but 'for thepeople's sake' they wear the last remnants of imperial purple. Clergy are called to take onextra ministry over and above the ministry of the baptised, but in exchange they get a rangeof titles all suitably graded so that everyone from a newly ordained deacon to Vicar Generalknows exactly which rung each is on.Reading this Gospel should make us all mightily embarrassed!2. When John in his gospel wanted to convey the same message lie did not have a littleteaching scene like this one we read today; rather he had Jesus get up and wash the feet of hisdisciples with all the messiness and embarrassment that goes with such an act of service.Moreover, we know that foot washing was one of the ways that Christians in the earlychurches learned how they should see one another as brothers and sisters in Christ (e.g. 1 Tim5:10). Indeed, it survived as a rite used regularly in some monasteries and by bishops on HolyThursday. Now it has a formal place in the liturgy of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday
although it is still such a shocking message that it is always in danger of being simplyskipped or turned into a token affair.3. Given that the gospel should make any cleric uncomfortable, and anything one says aboutthe gospel is likely to be taken as hypocritical self-justification, a better commentary on thegospel is to actually perform the action Jesus carried out and wished us to carry out inimitation of him.Therefore, introduce the actual practice of foot washing
many in any average congregationwill never have seen it or will not remember it from Holy Thursday
and then wash the feetof a group of the community.Meanwhile, have these words from John read as a commentary on the action taking place:When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said tothem, 'Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you areright, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought towash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I havedone to you.Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greaterthan he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them' On 13:12-