So often the meaning of the various discourses, miracles, and parables is not explicitly explained by Jesus. They are left open-ended. For instance, in the story of the Prodigal, we are not told whether the older brother eventually accepts his father’s invitation to come into the banquet and reconcile with his brother. In the story of the fig tree, we are never told whether it eventually begins to bear fruit.
However, in the instance of the foot-washing that takes place at the Last Supper, Jesus leaves nothing to chance. He very explicitly explains that he has given the apostles an example that they are to follow. If we read the story as an acted parable, the explanation focuses on two important features.
First, each of the individual apostles is in a relationship with Jesus. Though he washes their feet, he is demonstrating to them that if they wish to follow him, they must be submissive, willing to do what he has done. Second, each of the apostles is related to the others in a community of mutual service. Taken together, these two features may be understood as St. John’s understanding of the marks of the true Church: communion with Jesus Christ and community with one another in emulating Jesus’ loving service. Being submissive and willing to serve others is a tall order. Today we celebrate the memorial of St. Catherine of Siena who was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1970 by Pope Paul VI in spite of the fact that she had no formal education and was illiterate. Yet her theological knowledge acquired through prayer astounded learned theologians. She was able to persuade the Pope to return to Rome after sixty-six years in Avignon, France. It could not have been easy for the Pope to submit to the arguments of an illiterate peasant girl of Siena. Yet Pope Gregory XI did just that and ended a particularly difficult time in the history of the Church.
This lesson is as true for us today as it was for the original apostles. The words of Jesus in today’s Gospel are words to live by.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator