This Sunday we hear a part of Jesus’ table speech during the Last Supper according to Saint John’s Gospel. Jesus tells his disciples that he will go to his Father’s house to prepare a place for them. If  they want to join him they have to go his way and follow his example. In this way it is not told by Matthew. The painting of Matthew 9:35-37 might be a suitable alternative.

Matthew 10:24-25

10:24   'Disciple is not superior to teacher, nor slave to master.

10:25  It is enough for disciple to grow to be like teacher, and slave like master...’


These words are taken from Jesus’ second sermon in Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew’s Gospel contains five sermons of Jesus:

1.         05-07   The Sermon on the Mount

2.         10        The Sermon about Mission

3.         13        Parables about God’s Kingship

4.         18        The Sermon about Community Life

5.         24-25   Parables about the End of Times.

Today’s words belong to Jesus’ mission sermon. A rough survey of this sermon:

vss.05-15:       Jesus sends his disciples  out to spread his words and deeds.

vss.16-23:       Don’t  be amazed when you meet opposition.

vss.24-33:       The same thing happened to me.  But don’t be afraid: you belong to God.

vss.34-39:       So my message will bring division among the people; even within families.

vss.40-42:       Don’t forget: who receives you, receives me,  and more: the One who sent me.


Information about the ‘slave’

In our western history this word ‘slave’ has got a cynical meaning because of the slave trades in the 17th and 18th century; and because of the way slaves were treated in the Americas. But in the classical world, 95 percent of the people were slaves. They belonged to the household of rich families, and they did the work that is done by the electric domestic appliances in our times. We maintain these appliances with care because then they are the most useful. So, in classical times, slaves were regularly maintained with the same care, for then they were the most useful as well.

A slave had to do what the master ordered. So says the centurion, ‘I say to my slave “Do this” and he does so’ (Luke 07,08) That’s what a slave was. Doing the will of the master. Seeing the behaviour of the slave you could conclude what kind of master he had. That’s what Mary will sing in her song ‘Magnificat’, ‘The Lord has looked upon the humiliation of his slave-woman. For look, from now on, all generations will congratulate me, because the Powerful One has done great things to me...’ (Luke 01,48-49).

Slave Mary does only what Master God is ordering. And everybody will congratulate Mary. But it is the Lord who prescribes her behaviour. And as a good slave-woman, she does what he says. That is what she said some lines earlier when the angel invited her to become the mother of God’s son, ‘You see before you the Lord’s servant.’ But in the Greek text Mary says, ‘Look, the Lord’s slave woman.’ She uses the word ‘slave’.

In the beginning of most of his letters, Saint Paul presents himself as Christ’s slave. All that he does has been ordered by his master Christ. Saint Peter does so too in his second letter (2 Peter 01,01) and Saint Jude in his first verse, ‘Slave of Jesus Christ.’

In his letter to the Romans Saint Paul explains what a slave is meant to be (06,16). There he explains that - seeing someone’s behaviour - you can conclude to whom he is obeying. If someone is living in sinfulness in any way, then he is listening to the desires which sinfulness inspires in him.

So, sinfulness is the one who governs and leads his life. He is a slave of sinfulness. But if somebody is doing good, then he listens to... he obeys to the desires which goodness inspires him to do. That goodness is God himself. When you do good, you’re a slave of God.

So Jesus says in the Sermon of the Mount (06,24), ‘Nobody can be a slave of two masters.’ Either you obey to the good or to the evil. But to obey to the good and to the evil at the same time: that is impossible.

And even of Jesus himself it is said that he has taken ‘a slave’s form’ (Philippians 02,07). That means: all that he does and says is ordered to Him by his Master, God.

When slave Jesus does good and shows charity and tenderness..., when he cures sick and unabled people: so, then you cannot but realize that it is his Father who ordered him to do so. And seeing that, you will conclude that God is a merciful and tender Father, and not someone who is controlling or judging you.

This slave-theology belonged to the spirituality of the first Christian generation.

Picture Meditation

Jesus, in red, and the disciple, in green (why green?), are close to each other. Together they form a unity. But the disciple is not superior to the teacher. Jesus sitting upon a simple stool; the disciples on his knees.

We see his bare right foot: in art often a sign that the person is following the way of Jesus. Jesus is speaking with his mouth, with his hands, with his face. What is the expression of his features? The disciple is looking up to Jesus; he is listening and receiving. What is the expression of his features?

Deep down we see another explanation of the same text. Now Jesus is sitting on his pulpit. Teaching the people who stand before him. What is the meaning of all their gestures?

In front of the people we see a bishop, recognizable by his mitre. He is clothed in red clothes, just as Jesus is... At the rear another bishop. in a different colour. What does that mean?

By composing the group of people this way, is the artist saying that not only everyday people have to listen to Jesus but bishops also? Or is he suggesting that the bishops are doing good work by surrounding their people: one at the head and one at the rear, just as teachers do when they go for a walk with the children who are entrusted to their care. Do the bishops bring their people to Jesus?

I choose one of the pictured people at the base of the painting and try to identify myself with him. What are my feelings? What should I like to say to Jesus?

I identify myself with the green disciple close to Jesus. What do I receive from Jesus? What does he give me? At the end I have a personal talk with him.

- Meditation by Fr Dries van den Akker S.J

The God Who Speaks in our Archdiocese