The Rev. Dr. Mary Abrams
March 29, 2018
God came to earth in human form, as Jesus Christ, for one sole purpose, US. As a human, God could show us what God wants of us. How God intends us to live. How God needs us to behave in order to be the Kingdom of God here on earth. Jesus lived his life teaching and modeling a life that we can follow. Today in our reading from John we find another example of how Jesus takes an opportunity of using the current situation to teach by washing the feet of his disciples.
Foot washing was a common custom in Jesus’ day. The roads of Palestine were dirt. In dry weather, they were inches deep in dust and when it rained, they were slushy mud. Roads even had garbage and waste from the animals that shared the same streets. People wore sandals, which gave little protection against the dust, mud and filth.
For these reasons, there was a pot of water at the entrance of every home; and usually there would be a servant there with a pitcher and a towel to wash and then dry the feet of guests as they came in. It was looked upon as the lowliest of all services.
Having your guests’ feet washed was a way to show honor to your guests as well as to keep your house clean and free from the odors carried in on the dirty feet.
Jesus and the disciples had no servants. So they typically would wash each others feet.
All of the Gospels have an account of the Last Supper but it is in Luke, which we didn’t read today, that we get a picture of what was happening with the disciples before this meal. Luke tells us that they were arguing about who was the greatest among them. It sounds to me like a bunch of middle school kids fighting over their BFF, their best friend forever. We have all heard it or even done it. She is my best friend. No, she’s my best friend. She likes me better. No I’m her favorite. And then all of the fights and meanness that would follow.
When I think about this scene with the disciples arguing about who was favored, I get an image of them getting upset with one another, fighting over who is the one closest to Jesus, Who does Jesus like best. I can imagine them getting their feathers ruffled, getting their feeling hurt and beginning to pout just like 8th graders. I can imagine that they would be in no mood to wash the feet of one another. Not one of them willing to see the pitcher and basin and towel set there for their use, despite the fact that they normally would have taken turns with this menial task and thought nothing about it. Tonight all of them sit stubbornly in their places, either staring down at the floor not wanting to make eye contact or maybe glaring at one another.
I also image that Jesus was once again disappointed in the behavior of the disciples, once again putting themselves first over their brothers. Once again not getting the message that Jesus was desperately trying to convey. So he once again he takes the opportunity to demonstrate God’s way. He gets up, removes his outer robe, ties a towel around his waist, goes to the water basin, pours the water and washes the feet of his disciples even though they protest that he should not be washing their feet. But Jesus was doing more then the normal cleaning of dirty feet, he was showing that it is service that is important, not authority, not greatness, not favoritism.
The disciples needed a lesson on having the humility to serve one another with kindness, rather than competing with one another to see who was favored, or greater. In my image the disciples refused to humble themselves to serve one another because each wanted to be superior to, or better then the other. So, Jesus took the opportunity to serve them and thereby teach them the lesson of humble service to meet the needs of others. If Jesus performed this kind of humble service, then surely the disciples and we should do the same.
It is no longer necessary that we wash one another’s feet. It is no longer a way that we have of honoring our guest or for caring for them. So we can interpret that when Jesus said, wash one another’s feet, he was saying, serve one another. Jesus is saying that we should humble ourselves and be willing to do even menial tasks for one another.
Won’t it be great to be able to say that we have learned that lesson. That we have learned to be humble and put others before us. But unfortunately we know that that is not the case.
So often, even in our churches, troubles arise because someone does not get the place or the position that he or she wants. We are easily offended if we do not receive the recognition or preferential treatment we feel we deserve. All around us we can see the desire for prominence, a desire for control, and desire to be at the top and an unwillingness to take a subordinate position. All around us we see people using violence, in action and in words, to get ahead or to keep others down. Jesus tells us that there is only one kind of greatness, the greatness of service and of love. The world is full of people who are standing on their dignity when instead they should to be kneeling at the feet of their brother or sister.
If Jesus was disappointed when he heard the disciples arguing among themselves over the pettiness of favor, think how sad and discouraged God must be with us now. After thousands of years we still don’t get it.
I was at Cambier park Saturday with thousands of others and with millions of people all around the world pleading that we stop killing one another and that we start loving one another. Pleading that we follow Jesus’ way. And I thought what if, what if over the last two or three thousands of years instead of spending our time, energy, resources and brain power in learning how to control one another, and how to protect ourselves from one another what if we had put that same amount of energy, resources, brain power and time into learning how to love one another. Just imagine what God’s world would be like if only we had followed Jesus’ way.
This is Maundy Thursday. The word Maundy comes from the latin word for new command. Following washing the disciples feet Jesus said “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.” It is not too late. Thank goodness God never gives up on us. We must keep trying to learn the way of Jesus.
The focus of this new commandment is on loving action rather than loving feelings. In his own life, Jesus demonstrated love in action. Love that benefits the receiver of the love. He calls us to do the same. And then makes it possible for us to do. While it might be impossible to feel affection for some people, it is not impossible to help them or to serve them. This action-love is a gift from Christ, who loves us, shows us how love behaves, and when we accept Jesus into our hearts we are capable of loving as he loves.
We can truly obey this commandment when it is no longer us but Christ living in us, that helps us to love.
If we believe we have a valid excuse not to love a particular person, just remember who was at the Last Supper with Jesus. Jesus knew that Judas would betray him and yet Judas remained at the meal and I believe that Jesus washed his feet also. Jesus commanded the disciples to love one another, in spite of the fact that they did not know who the betrayer was. They did not know who they could trust. Jesus demonstrated unconditional love. And if we follow his example and keep him close we too can love that way.
I saw the face of Christ in the faces of those children at the marches this past Saturday. The youth that have taken on the goal of making our world safer and kinder are our prophets...a prophet is not one who predicts the future but one who changes the future. I think we would do well to watch these kids as maybe, just maybe, they will get it right and lead us on the path to follow in Jesus’ way.
Doing a foot washing on Maundy Thursday is in remembrance of the sacramental act of how Christ humbled Himself and washed the feet of the disciples. Although not a recognized sacrament of our church it is indeed an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. It is a powerful reminder of how we are to live the Christian life. When we are tempted to put our ego first, to think of our dignity, of our prestige, of our rights, I pray that we will once again see this picture of the Son of God, with a towel tied around his waist, kneeling at his disciples’ feet and performing the menial task of a servant and I hope at that time we will remember that we too are to serve one another and love one another as Jesus did and as Jesus loves us.