A community of disciples
Most of us, rightly, picture the disciples not as individuals, but as a group following
Jesus together, pooling their resources, supporting one another on their journeying:
questioning, believing, doubting, struggling, and learning together. In today’s passage
from the Gospel of John, we are invited to think about what it means to be one disciple
among a whole community of disciples, or perhaps even one disciple among the whole
communion of saints, the faithful followers of Jesus in all times and places.
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him.
And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands,
and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his
outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash,
except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he
knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said
to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and
you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you (John 13:1-15).
This passage marks the beginning of the long, intimate farewell dinner in which Jesus
tries to prepare his disciples for what they cannot really be prepared for: his death,
Resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Spirit. He gives them many gifts of teaching
during this dinner, but perhaps the most important gift of all is the sustaining and
strengthening gift of one another’s companionship on the journey of faith.
One of the interesting aspects of this story is that it does not sugarcoat the possibility
that in a community of disciples there will be some whose choices are destructive to the
• Even here, where the heart of Jesus is so transparent as he tenderly washes the feet of
his disciples, even here, there is a dark note of rejection.
• Jesus clearly knows of Judas’ upcoming betrayal, but he is not at all distracted by it.
• He is not at all deterred from doing what he has set out to do, as a key element in
carrying out the mission of God: he creates a community of disciples, bound to one
another through love and humble service: “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have
washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14).
Questions for Reflection:
• What is your experience of death or absence of someone you have dearly loved? What
invisible gift would you most like to leave with the people you have loved when the
time comes for your own death?
• What has been your most significant experience of community?
• Why do you think the creation of a community of disciples would be an essential part
of the mission of God?
Lord God, help me to remember that my human communities are a gift, and teach me
how to love and serve the people you have placed in community with me. This I ask in
the Name of the One who washed the feet of his disciples, Jesus, my Savior. Amen.