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Greatness in Serving


Jesus asks his disciples to exercise authority like a child or a servant.


The word "authority" comes from the Latin "augere" (to grow).  All authority, whether it be civil, parental, religious, or community, is intended to help people grow towards greater freedom, justice, and truth.  Often, however, it is used for the honor, power, privilege, and positive self-image of those who exercise it.  By stooping down to wash the disciples' feet, Jesus calls us all to exercise authority humbly, as a service ...

By washing his disciples' feet, however, Jesus is calling them not just to be good shepherds, but to exercise authority at the heart of community in a totally new way, a way that is humanly incomprehensible and impossible.  It is just as new and just as impossible as his invitation to forgive seventy-times-seven times, to love enemies and to do good to those who hate us, to give our clothes to those who ask for them, to be constantly gentle and non-violent.  It is just as amazing as when he identifies himself with the poor and the outcast.  "In my kingdom, the greatest must become the smallest." 

Jesus asks his disciples to exercise authority like a child or a servant, where they are vulnerable and open to others.  Can this authority "from below," where, out of love, we place ourselves lower than others, still be called authority?  Is it not rather love and communion?  It is like the authority a child has over a mother, or a friend over a friend, or a wife over her husband and vice versa.  They are there for one another, at each other's service.  They listen to one another and are never too busy to be disturbed by the other.  They live inside one another.  Their joy is in giving to each other and being in communion one with another.



Jean Vanier. "Greatness in Serving." The Scandal of Service: Jesus Washes Our Feet (Novalis Publishing Inc., 1996).

Adapted from The Scandal of Service: Jesus Washes Our Feet by Jean Vanier. Used with permission of Novalis Publishing Inc.

The Author

Vanier2VaniersmJean Vanier, is the founder of the international movement of L'Arche communities, where people who have developmental disabilities and the friends who assist them create homes and share life together. Jean Vanier is the author of many books, including From Brokenness to Community,Our Life Together: A Memoir in Letters, Becoming Human, Finding Peace, Seeing Beyond Depression, The Scandal of Service: Jesus Washes Our Feet, and Jesus, The Gift of Love.

Copyright © 1996 Novalis Publishing Inc.
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