I know whom I have chosen
Christ’s knowing and loving is key to how we understand his act of washing the disciples’ feet. In today’s Gospel we learn that it is also key to what it means to be a disciple.
Reading: John 13:16-20
This homily was preached to the student brothers during compline. You can listen here or read below:
This Gospel presents a juxtaposition. It brings together two narratives within the Last Supper discourse: the closing of the washing of the feet narrative, and the beginning of the foretelling of Judas’ betrayal. We have, on the one hand, an account of service and of charity, and on the other, an account of discipleship and betrayal.
The narrative of the washing of the feet is structured around Christ’s knowledge and love, which is then poured out in an act of charity. We read at the beginning of this account: “Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” (Jn 13:1). And it goes on to say “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper, laid aside his garments…” (Jn 13:3-4). It is Christ’s knowing and loving that prompt his act of charity, and the example he gives to the disciples by washing their feet.
And in our Gospel this evening, the first couple of verses bring this foot washing narrative to a conclusion by returning to the theme of knowing and loving. Christ says to his disciples: “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” It is our faith in Christ, the knowledge he gives us through the revelation of his father, and the invitation to respond to that revelation in love, that then ought to be poured out in charity. Christ gives us an example of faith and love which is poured in an act of charity.
What might Christ’s knowing and loving tell us about the rest of the Gospel? In the second half of this short passage, we come to the foretelling of Judas’ betrayal. Jesus quotes a line from Psalm 41. He says, “He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me”. This is, at a literal reading, very clearly foretelling the betrayal of Judas. And the following verse makes the connection with knowledge: Christ says “I tell you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he.” This is a gift of faith to the disciples. By making this prophecy, Christ is enabling their faith.
But I think there is also something else going in the way Christ’s knowledge and love is working in the second half of this passage. The line that Christ quotes from Psalm 41 has very clear Eucharistc connotations. This is not just because of the mention of eating bread, but the verb choice here for ‘eating’, trogein, echoes the language of the bread of life discourse in John 6. And if we look at the full context of this citation from Psalm 41, the verse begins “Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread…” (Ps 40(41):9).
In the context in which Christ is speaking, the disciples don’t yet know Judas is going to betray him. He hasn’t yet been identified by the dipping of the morsel, and even then they don’t understand. So perhaps Christ’s words here are not directly solely at Judas. Perhaps they are directed at all those who share in the Eucharistic feast, directed at all those whom Jesus calls his friends. And after all, of those sat before him, it is clearly not just Judas who is in some sense a failed disciple. Peter will shortly go on to deny Christ three times. Philip will shortly ask the Lord the question, “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied” to which Jesus responds, “have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip?” (John 14:8-9)”
These are apostles who are ignorant, they’re going to deny Christ, they’re weak, and they fail. And it is to these that Jesus says, “I know whom I have chosen”. And so apostles who are weak, ignorant, fragile, are those whom Christ knows, and are those whom Christ has chosen.
So on the one hand, in this gospel, we have Christ’s knowing and loving that provides an example to his disciples. And on the other hand we have Christ’s knowing and loving which is the formation of his disciples. And it is in this context that I think we can understand how these words are addressed to all disciples of Christ, a line that speaks with piercing intensity to each one of us who recognises our own weakness, our own fragility: “I know whom I have chosen”.
In the final line of the Gospel we read: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who receives any one whom I send receives me; and he who receives me receives him who sent me.” These are Christ’s great words of affirmation, that his apostles are those who bear him, and thus are those who bear the Father. This is the transformation of fragile disciples into sent ones of the Father.
And how might we begin that transformation? Perhaps we might heed the command of the Lord, “do as I have done to you.”