It’s not hard to imagine that after the supper fiasco in Bethany – Mary anointing Jesus’ feet, Judas’ outburst, and Jesus talking about his death – the disciples might have been looking forward to a quiet evening, just a regular supper, just some food and conversation. That’s how tonight’s supper began but that’s not how it will end.
This night would be different. It would not be like the supper at Bethany. This time it was their feet. This time it is Peter’s outburst. This time it is Jesus talking about and showing love. It was, however, another supper interrupted.
“During supper Jesus got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.”
Jesus is taking their relationship to the next level. They had been with each other for three years. Now they will become a part of each other. They had shared much over those three years, conversations, meals, experiences, prayer, time, life. Now they will take a share in Jesus and in each other. He in them. Them in him. They in each other. That’s how love is.
Jesus is serving an intimate dinner of love, vulnerability, and humility. Many of us show up tonight because that’s what we hunger for. Others do not show up. It’s too scary, too much. I don’t criticize that, I understand. Love and intimacy are always risky.
Are you ready to take this relationship to the next level? That is always Jesus’ question to us. It is answered by our relationships with one another. If Jesus, our Lord and Teacher, has washed our feet, we also ought to wash one another’s feet. Feet and water are just the outward signs. The inner reality, the purpose, and goal is love.
Love and only love is to determine and define our relationships with each other. This is more than polite behavior, kind acts, and nice words. The love Jesus commands goes beyond positive feelings, attraction, or attachment to another. It is an orientation and disposition of openness, receptivity, and self-giving towards another. It is choosing to receive into our hands the feet of another regardless of whose they are or where they have been. It is the willingness to hold and care for those feet regardless of what they look like or what they have done. It is forgiving those feet that have kicked us and asking forgiveness of those we have stepped on. It is remembering that the feet we hold were created and are loved by the same God who created and loves our feet. It is recognizing how much those feet look like our own feet.
Now that sounds really nice but you know as well as I it is easier said than done. “You will never wash my feet,” Peter says to Jesus. For Peter position and roles order relationships. They determine what is shared and how it is shared. Peter is a disciple and Jesus is his Lord and Teacher. We are not so different. We probably understand Peter’s protest. More often than not how we treat each other and the way we define our relationships are determined according to position and role, who has and who is: who has status, power, control, and wealth; who is important, useful, or deserving. These are the criterion by which most of the world lives. They are also the criterion by which most of the world suffers. All that gets washed away tonight.
We all have different positions and roles: parent-child, priest-parishioner, husband-wife, employer-employee, teacher-student, ruler-ruled. That’s not the issue. Jesus acknowledges his own position and role in the life of the disciples. “You call me Teacher and Lord–and you are right, for that is what I am.” Jesus is not eliminating positions and roles. Instead, he is changing their contents and creating them anew. They are not to be filled with domination and hierarchy but with love and communion. So no matter what position we occupy or what role we fill it is to be the place in and through which we become lovers of one another. By that everyone will know that we are his disciples.
This sermon is for Maundy Thursday of Holy Week and is based on John 13:1-17, 31-35.