Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Maundy Thursday- Jesus washes feet

The disciples have been together with Jesus for three years, but things have begun to change. After Jesus raised Lazarus, the waters have begun to separate. People either fell in love with Jesus, or they became hostile to him. There were fewer and fewer in the middle.
           The air is electric. There is a sense of anticipation. It is nearly the celebration of freedom from Egypt in the festival of Passover. Something has changed. Jesus has begun to focus more on the disciples than on the crowds. He is spending more time with those who are closest to him.      
          They arrive at a home and are eating supper when Jesus suddenly gets up, takes off his outer clothing, and wraps a towel around his waste. He gets a basin of water and begins washing the disciples' feet. Jesus gets up and dresses like a servant, then he begins doing the work of a servant. Footwashing was among the lowest of all jobs that could be done. It wasn't just any servant do did the footwashing. It was the least ranking servant who did the footwashing. It was the job even the servants didn't want, so it was the duty of the lowest ranking servant. I can imagine that each time a servant did the footwashing they were reminded that they were the lowest of the low. The reason they were doing this task is because there is no one lower than them to be found.
          The fact that Jesus gets up to do this task is shocking. Here is the Lord of the universe washing the feet of fishermen and tax collectors. The way the world understands power and authority has just been turned on its head. In this footwashing Jesus is enacting the ancient hymn we find in Philippians ch 2

Philippians 2:5-11
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,
he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross.
Jesus places himself in the lowest possible position.  It is a position of service to his disciples- his students.

Peter can't accept Jesus in this role. His mind is still working in the way of the world. Some of us felt a little bit of Peter in us when we consider having our feet washed. It is too strange an act of service, it is too personal, it is embarrassing. Peter cannot put Jesus in that role. It is like the queen of England offering to clean your toilet, but amplified infinitely. Peter has a hard time wrapping his head around the fact that power and authority in the kingdom work differently. The ways of the world are not the ways of the kingdom. Peter needs to understand this, and so do we.
          Judas was also present among the disciples during the footwashing. Jesus moved the basin and knelt at Judas' feet. And Jesus knew. He knew what was going through Judas' mind. We can't even guess as to the reasons, but Jesus knew. He knew the betrayal he was planning. He knew that Judas would set in motion a political machine that would result in his agonizing torture and death. And Jesus kneels at his feet and pours water over the feet that have walked with him for three years of dusty roads.  He washes the feet that will shortly walk away from the light into the darkness of the night to betray Jesus to those who will kill him. The love he shows Judas is not comprehendible in any kind of human way. When we move from the footwashing back to the meal we are surprised to find Judas again at a place of honour. He is close enough to Jesus for him to serve him by giving him bread. He is close enough for Jesus to whisper to him without anyone else hearing. At the meal Judas was at a place of honour close to Jesus. Even those within the church whose hearts are set on betrayal are treated with loving service by Jesus. When we are at our darkest, we still find Jesus lovingly washing our feet and feeding us bread.

          Jesus is the embodiment of the God who is love. God's love is not something we earn or work for. It doesn't matter if we are a traitor like Judas, or a zealous follower like Peter. Jesus loves us and serves us because that's who he is. It's not really about who we are, it's about who he is.

          Jesus' whole life is an integrated act of loving service to us and to his Father.     His  birth, baptism, teaching, healing, exorcism, cross, resurrection, and ascension are all about Jesus' loving service. They all work together. The life of Jesus is an integrated whole. This footwashing teaches us about the cross. The cross is a loving act of service. It is Jesus taking the lowest position. Jesus takes the most despised position as an act of loving service. His whole life is offered to us in love. His life-force is poured out so that it can pour into us.

          His life living in us transforms us. As we feed on him we become more like him. The Lord of the universe washes our feet, and in return he doesn't ask that we wash his, He asks instead that we wash eachother's feet. Our service and love to him is shown in our love and service to eachother. And this is how we become known- it is by our love. We aren't shown to be followers of Jesus by the way we dress, or what we eat or don't eat. We aren't shown to be followers of Jesus based or our rituals, or our rule following. We are shown to be followers of Jesus by our love for one another- by our willingness to serve eachother and even give our lives for one another. It is demanding, but Jesus doesn't ask anything of us that he hasn't done for us.

          We do not serve and love those around us because they are anything special. We serve and love because God has poured his love into us. We serve and love because that is who we have become because of Jesus' love. We serve and love because Jesus who is our Lord and God has served us first.      

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