Daily Thought For November 16, 2019

Do You Know What I Have Done To You? 

When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them." 

John 13:12-17 

One night, a companion of Saint Francis of Assisi was struggling mightily to keep to his fast. His body was weak. He just couldn't persevere. Francis, recognizing his weakness, offered him some bread. But then Francis did something really surprising: He ate a piece of the bread first. He didn't need to, but he did. 

The next morning, when the rest of his companions assembled, Francis said, "Brothers, in this incident let the charity and not the food be an example to you." 

What did Francis know? He knew that giving bread alone was an occasion for pride. He could exalt himself at the expense of his brother if he tended to his brother's weakness from a position of strength. So while the brother consumed the bread his body needed, Francis ate the humility he himself needed. Bread alone was not charity, but only that bread given as a true gift, in humility. That is what bonded Francis and his brother together in a single loaf. 

Francis of Assisi was healed of the weakness of pride over a long life of penance. His Lord and Teacher, Jesus Christ, never was. There never was any pride to heal: He is humility, through and through.

If from the table at which they have eaten Jesus' companions only see bread, then they do not see Jesus. As soon as they see charity, though, there he is. He is the true bread come down from heaven.

When Jesus kneels before his brothers to wash their feet, he shows them who he is: power made perfect in weakness (cf. 2 Cor 12:9). He is the charity of the Father come to meet them. He gives them what the Father gives him, so that they may become for others what he is for them. 

The Father gives everything to the Son. The Son claims nothing as his own, but gives everything back to the Father by doing the Father's will - that is, his food (cf. Jn 4:34). But that means that Jesus does something very dangerous to those whom he serves, to whom he gives himself as charity. Jesus gives them his food. They become marked by the Father's will, and the only way to receive that food is to do the Father's will. 

What Jesus commands, he first does. What Jesus intends his companions to become, he first is. He does not feed them as one who claims a position of strength, to lord his superiority over them. Rather, he feeds them from a position of weakness - he takes the form of a servant, a slave. His brothers must be healed of their pride and so become capable of the great gift intended for them - the gift of being able to love one another (cf. Jn 13:34; 15:12). It is from Jesus that Francis himself eventually learned to "let the charity and not the food be an example to you." 

In one sense, this is all just so inconvenient. Charity is one of those things that is only really seen when it is done. "Do you realize what I have done to you?" For Jesus' brothers, the answer right then is no, they do not realize. Because in order to really see this charity, they have to do this charity. It is in giving that they receive. 

This is what Jesus does to them. He inaugurates a way. He imprints the truth on them. In the end, there is no other way to live (cf. Jn 14:6) than the way of charity that is true life given from the Father in the Son. To accept this life, those who receive Jesus must give this life. That is what it means to receive what Jesus gives. He does not give something; he gives everything. He gives himself as the gift of charity, as the Father loves him (cf. Jn 15:9). And by his word, anyone who receives one whom the Son sends receives the Son; and he who receives the Son receives the Father (cf. In 13:20). 

In this way, the gift of the Father becomes complete: when those to whom the Son gives himself enter into the life of the Father in the Son. It is all very confusing from the outside, because it is one of those things that is only really seen when it is done. "I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me" (Jn 17:23, NAB).

After Jesus had washed their feet, he completed the work of love (cf. Jn 13:12a). He then took up his garment, the glory of his Father's love (cf. In 13:l2b).48 And he resumed his place at the Father's right hand (cf. Jn 13:12c). Where he is, those he loves may also be, for they know the way there (cf. Jn 14:3-4). 

Francis's brother glimpsed this mystery when Francis made himself one with him in his weakness. But that brother only really knew that life when he also did to another what was done to him. 

Lord, give me this bread always. 

from A God Who Questions by Leonard J. DeLorenzo pp. 83-866


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