Maundy Thursday: Absolute humility; absolute love
John 13 marks a turning point in John's gospel and the ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus' public ministry to the nation of Israel had run its course and ended in her complete and final rejection of Him as Messiah.
On the first day of the week, Jesus had entered Jerusalem in triumph to the enthusiastic shouts of the people. The Passover season had arrived, and by Friday He would be utterly rejected and executed.
He had come unto His own people, the Jews, "and those who were His own did not receive Him.”
So, tonight we reflect, not on His public ministry but to his intimate fellowship with His disciples. Now it is the day before His death He is totally consumed with His love for the disciples. His love - never impersonal—that's the mystery!
Our Gospel reading for tonight reflects the power of this love.
BUT… when He came to Simon Peter, Simon was indignant: said to him, "Lord, do You wash my feet?" ……"Never shall You wash my feet!"
Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me."
Simon Peter said to Him, "Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head." So, when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.
Absolute humility generates absolute love. It is the nature of love to be selfless, giving. Christ's love and His humility are inseparable. He could not have been so consumed with a passion for serving others if He had been primarily concerned with Himself.
Sadly, the church is often full of people who are standing on their dignity when they ought to be kneeling at the feet of their brother and sister. The desire for prominence is death to love, death to humility, and death to service. Pumped up people have no capacity for love or humility.
Love has to be more than words. The apostle John wrote, "Let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth". Love that is real is love expressed in activity, not just words.
So, when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.
Jesus is teaching His disciples that they need to begin to operate on the basis of humility. He argues from the greater to the lesser. If the Lord of glory is willing to gird Himself with a towel, take upon Him the form of a servant, act like a slave, and wash the dirty feet of his disciples, it is reasonable that the disciples might be willing to wash each other's feet.
He is not saying "Do the same thing I have done"; He is saying, "Behave in the same manner as I have behaved." Jesus' humility is the real lesson—and it is a practical humility that governs every area of life, every day of life, in every experience of life. The result is always loving service—doing the menial and sometimes humiliating tasks.
Tonight, we are challenged to develop a servant's heart. If Jesus can step down from a position of deity to become a man, and then further humble Himself to be a servant and wash the feet of the twelve undeserving sinners what are our challenges? How do we as a church community demonstrate kindness and love without boundaries?
Jesus' gesture broke down the boundaries that surrounded feet-washing - and serving - and we can tell that this is something that he wanted his disciples to continue as he goes on to tell them that they should do for one another as he has done for them. Loving each other means that we sometimes have to get our hands dirty – doing some stuff that is confronting and/or uncomfortable and sometimes costly.
Christ's gesture shows that no expression of love is beneath him and in doing so he tells us in more ways than one that it shouldn't be for us either.
This powerful display of love calls for us to remove the boundaries that can dictate how we express love for each other.
The structures of hierarchy in our society and even in our relationships can lead us to believe that certain roles are not our responsibility. Like the disciples, we can often avoid doing certain tasks because we think they'll be picked up by someone else. What we can take from Jesus' example is that we should share equally in showing kindness to each other and we shouldn't be under the impression that certain acts of kindness or service are reserved for particular sections of society.
What we can learn from Jesus’ example is that our acts of love should be devoid of pride. Some acts of love and kindness don't require us to put ourselves in a position of discomfort, but the one that Christ performs here signifies that sometimes discomfort is necessary in service.
Arrogance is the antithesis of humility. Taking into account the fact that the task of washing someone's feet was extremely modest and required physically lowering yourself, we can see the act as symbolic of our need to exercise modesty and manage our perceptions of our own importance. We ought to be willing to suffer any indignity to serve Him. That is true love, and true humility.
We have all heard or read of Prime Minister Jacinda Arden’s public face following the atrocities in Christchurch recently. Dressed in black, her head covered, she opened her remarks in her parliament with the words: As-salaam-alaikum: a greeting in Arabic that means, Peace be with you.
This is a love expressed- washing the spirits of the broken and grieving- what a blessing she bought not only to the hearers but to a nation and perhaps even to those beyond their shores.
What can we do here to wash the spirits of the homeless – the broken and grieving who visit us regularly? This is our challenge! Profound acts of washing are required of us – these acts are redemptive – they bring life and hope -they will sometimes be uncomfortable – confronting – different - yet it’s the very clear message tonight from the upper room to each of us gathered here.
We might consider the following as a prayer to conclude this address or maybe a challenge to send us out:
Poor Ones - Broken ones, those homeless and grieving and sad - those sick and those with addictions -
Please take the food we offer with love. It is yours. A house with running water should be yours also. A plot of land, a dignified job -- all yours. Forgive us for offering it. Charity is not substitute for justice but you and your children are hungry now.
Spirit of Justice, break open our hearts. Break them wide open. Let anger pour through like strong winds cleaning us of complacency, Let courage pour through like spring storms flooding out our fear and complacency.
Let zeal pour through like blazing summer sun, filling us with passion.
Force of Justice, grant us anger at what is, courage to do what must be done, passion to break down the walls of injustice and build a land flowing with milk and honey for God's beloved, God's special love, God's Poor Ones.
Spirit of Justice, break open our hearts.