November 18, 2018: "Do You Understand What I Have Done for You?"

November 18, 2018                                                           Rev. Rhonda Blevins

Do You Understand What I Have Done For You?

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 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. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”  Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.”  For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them . . . Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.  If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

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Where was the slave? Where was the one normally responsible for this task? Did he or she fail to show up for work that day? Or did Jesus pre-arrange the slave’s absence, for this powerful, teachable moment?

 When the disciples realized there wasn’t a lesser human available to wash their nasty feet, what was their response? Were they uncomfortable, knowing that one of them would have to wash the others’ feet? Did they pretend not to notice? Did each think to himself, “I’m not going to do it!”? Did they feel too good for this job? Were they too haughty? Was this slave’s task beneath them?

 How would I have responded had I been in the room that evening? Would I have taken up the basin? Would I have wrapped the towel around myself, humbly lowering myself before the others in a subservient position? Or would I have pretended not to notice the absence of the servant, and the need for one of us to take on the slave’s task? Would I nervously laugh to hide the rising anxiety within? Would that laughter be the “tell” that I, indeed, noticed? Would my refusal to take up the basin and the towel make me feel ashamed? Or would my ego push that aside, in self-aggrandizing fashion?

 And the call is to community
The impoverished power that sets the soul free
In humility, to take the vow

That day after day we must take up the basin and the towel. [1]

 What did the disciples think as Jesus took off his robe—as he tied a towel around himself? Did the room grow quiet as Jesus poured water into the basin? [Pour water into basin.] Were they flabbergasted at the thought of their master humbling himself in this way? Were their hopes dashed? Did Jesus kneeling humbly before them crush their assumption that Jesus would be the Messiah who would stand tall and lead a victorious revolution against Rome?

 Who was the first to have his feet washed by the Lord? Did Jesus simply pour water over the top of each foot? Or did he gently caress and clean between each and every toe? Did Jesus consider the shape of each foot? Did he notice the toenails, the calluses, the veins on top, making each foot unique?

 What about Judas? What was going through Judas’ mind as Jesus took one foot, and then the other, tenderly, methodically? Did Jesus look into the eyes of the one who would betray him? If so, what did his eyes communicate to the one who would betray him unto death? Did he show disappointment? Anger? Love? All of these? None of these? Did this act of humility by Jesus solidify Judas’ disappointment in him? Did Judas see this as an act of weakness? Did it bolster his decision to betray the one washing his feet? Or did this exchange between the betrayer and the betrayed spark guilt and shame about what would take place later that evening?

 And the call is to community
The impoverished power that sets the soul free
In humility, to take the vow

That day after day we must take up the basin and the towel.

 What’s going through Peter’s mind? What prompted Peter to refuse the Lord’s service? Did he somehow grasp the implications for his own life? Did he realize, in receiving this act of service from his master, that he would have to reorient his attitudes, his values, his relationships? Did he grasp this as the downward path—opposite of the power and prestige his ego craved? Did the others laugh when he relented, and asked Jesus to clean his hands and his head too? Would Peter remember the feel of the Lord’s gentle hands on his feet a few hours later when the cock crowed—not once, not twice, but three times?

 When Jesus asked, “Do you understand what I have done for you?”, why didn’t Peter answer, as was his impetuous habit? Was Peter beginning to understand that he really didn’t understand at all? Or did he actually get it? Was Peter ready to live into Jesus’ teaching? Or did he continue to resist this lesson of gentleness, humility, and servitude?

 And the call is to community
The impoverished power that sets the soul free
In humility, to take the vow

That day after day we must take up the basin and the towel.

 Am I ready to live into this teaching? Are you? Or do we mostly resist this lesson? Where can we find contemporary examples of this kind of servant leadership displayed by Jesus that night? Where are the leaders who self-empty instead of self-promote? Where is the executive who bends down to wash the intern’s feet? Where is the movie star who bends down to wash the key grip’s feet? Where is the general who bends down to wash the private’s feet? What does this teaching mean in relation to the forms of hierarchy to which we’ve grown so accustomed? What does this mean for the church?

 Why did Jesus choose to wash feet as the way to introduce his new commandment, “Love one another?” Recognizing the disciples never had a chance to wash Jesus’ feet, how do we move past “keeping score” in our relationships? Past the “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” mentality? How do we get to a point in our journey of faith that we’re ready and able to pour ourselves out like Jesus did in the upper room that night? How can we resist the temptations of ego toward power, prestige, self-aggrandizement? Where are the places in my life, in your life, where we still refuse to appropriate this lesson?

 And the call is to community
The impoverished power that sets the soul free
In humility, to take the vow

That day after day we must take up the basin and the towel.

 How do we answer Jesus’ question, “Do you understand what I have done for you?” Does ego say, “Of course! I’ve been a Christian my whole life!”? Or has the lesson taken root more deeply? Is our answer more a more humble, “Jesus, I’m trying. Help me understand what you have done for me.”?

 Does Jesus’ example in the upper room matter for us today? If so, how must we live in light of this example? What does it mean in our homes? With our families? In our neighborhoods? At the workplace? Here at church? In what ways can we better live into Jesus’ commandment to “love one another?” How can we be “doers of the word and not hearers only?”[2]

 Will you help us, Lord, as we lift our humble prayer?

 And the call is to community
The impoverished power that sets the soul free
In humility, to take the vow

That day after day we must take up the basin and the towel.

 

[1] Song by Michael Card.

[2] James 1:22

Shari Maxwell