I know whom I have chosen; it is that the scripture may be fulfilled. . . . Amen, amen I say to you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.
John 13: 18, 20
Today’s gospel continues to speak of the mission of Jesus as the one sent by God and the mission of those he has chosen to bring him and his Father into the world. To be sent by Jesus is to serve as he serves. As he washes the feet of his disciples, as he empties out his life in love, so are his followers to do.
Jesus also, however, speaks to a quite mysterious aspect of his choosing those whom he commissions as disciples. He tells the twelve that he knows whom he has chosen; he knows they include one who is to betray him and one who is to deny him. Jesus takes pains to communicate that he knows what he is doing and that he is doing it so that the scriptures and God’s will may be fulfilled.
One of the core principles of Xaverian spirituality is the call to embrace ordinariness, to recognize ourselves as ordinary. Yet, we must be cautious, as Brother Reginald Cruz points out in his working paper on spirituality (p. 2), not to misunderstand the term: “To get to its meaning, we have to first shake away our association of the word ‘ordinary’ with the ideas of ‘simple,’ ‘plain,’ or worse, ‘mediocre’.” In the spirituality of Ryken, and before him of middle Dutch mysticism, the ordinary, as Brother Reginald defines it, is:
. . . the ground where we were first located, where God had known us – and delighted in what we already were and had – before we came to know and define ourselves in another way. (Working Paper on Spirituality, p. 3)
There is a certain sense of false humility in us by which we evade Jesus’ call to us be sent in his name. This false humility sees our limits, faults and sinfulness as a debilitating condition which disqualifies us from such a call. We tend to mythologize the saintly followers of Jesus and so allow ourselves to be an “ordinary” half-hearted believer. Dorothy Day was fully aware of this tendency when she said: “Don’t call e a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed that easily.”
It is difficult to acknowledge that Jesus has called us because to do so means also to recognize that he knows what he is doing in calling us as we are. We can offer plenty of reasons in our “character” for why we should not be called, but the Lord knows us, “where we were first located . . . before we came to know and define ourselves in another way.” To be called and to generously respond in service is to be willing to do what we can, even as we make some pretty terrible mistakes along the way.
Which takes us to the second aspect of Jesus’ words. Jesus both knows the weakness and sin of those he has chosen, he also knows what they are going to do. He wants the disciples to realize this: what will happen with Peter and Judas is meant to happen. It is in this way the scripture is to be fulfilled and that redemption and atonement is to occur. The triumph of God’s love occurs not merely despite but somehow through human failure and even sinfulness. One reason for avoiding the call and for settling for an “ordinary” life that is “mediocre” is the fear of making mistakes and so of hurting others. We can feel as if being too involved and caring too much carries with it a responsibility that is too great a burden. We somehow mistake being responsible for our actions for taking on the responsibility for the outcomes of those actions. Of course, we always need to act as responsibly as we can, but the ultimate responsibility for the world and for others is God’s. We must not refuse the call or hold back from serving as best we can because we might make a mistake. When a situation calls for us to give ourselves in some way, we are to do so, trusting that we are but an instrument of God’s loving presence.
In the act of washing his disciples’ feet, a foretelling of his total gift of self that is to come, Jesus tells us: “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13: 17). We are called to give everything we have, and Jesus knows that we can only do that in the human way, which means we shall make mistakes and, often enough, fail. But our mistakes and failures are never the end of the story. In some ways they are actually beside the point. To be ordinary in the spiritual sense is to live from that “ground where we were first located,” where God knows and delights in us. That ground is, as Meister Eckhart says, “God’s ground.” It is the life that is always giving and emptying itself out on behalf of all. We are called to give all we have, no matter its limit and frailty. To be a disciple, a servant of God’s love in Jesus, is to be as the widow who “out of her poverty put in all she had to live on” (Luke 21: 4).
Consider in what great excellence the Lord God has placed you, for he created and formed you to the image of his beloved Son, according to the body and to his likeness according to the Spirit.
And all creatures under heaven serve, know, and obey their Creator, each according to its own nature, better than you. And even the demons did not crucify him, but you, together with them, have crucified him and are still crucifying him by delighting in vices and sins.
In what, then, can you boast? Even if you were so skillful and wise that you possessed all knowledge, knew how to interpret every kind of language, and to scrutinize heavenly matters with skill: you could not boast in these things. For, even though someone may have received from the Lord a special knowledge of the highest wisdom, one demon knew about heavenly matters and now knows more about those of earth than all humanity.
In the same way, even if you were more handsome and richer than everyone else, and even if you worked miracles so that you put demons to flight: all these things are contrary to you; nothing belongs to you; you can boast in none of these things.
But we can boast in our weaknesses and in carrying each day the holy cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
St. Francis of Assisi, The Admonitions, I,131