Maundy Thursday 2016
It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
It is easier to serve than it might be to be served.
As we see from what the gospel writers include when they speak this story of the special moment with Jesus in that upper room at this fateful last meal together, we can see by Peter’s response to Jesus’ serving that it is easier to serve than it might be to be served.
I suspect for most of us, how easy or difficult we find being served by another does depends on who is doing the serving and who is watching.
If the one serving you in some act of kindness or hard work is someone that is considered either by yourself or by others around you as “below you” in status, then it might be tolerable, or sometimes even demanded.
We might be quite unphased by the service done for us by the person on the check-out at Foodland. We might not even notice the service rendered to us by a health professional, a child doing a chore around the house, the person serving the meal at the restaurant.
We expect this kind of service – both the one serving and the one receiving. It is the way of the world and everyone has to work and eat and someone has to do the any jobs that make this all happen.
However, if the person doing the serving to you, like Jesus to Peter, is regarded by you and everyone else as “above you”, this might be intolerable.
You might find yourself pulling away. It might be an embarrassing moment. You might want to shun this kind of unexpected service. Like Peter, who did not seem to be able to cope with Jesus’ taking on of such a lowly and humbling position as to even wash dirty, smelly feet with only his underpants on and a towel in hand, exactly as a slave would do in any ancient middle eastern well-to-do household before dinner, we may find ourselves wanting to be just like Peter and escape this thing, this moment, this reality before our eyes.
If a colleague in some public space at work or in the community noticed your shoe lace was undone and just bent down right there in front of everyone and tied up your shoelace, that might be embarrassing.
If some well-known identity happened to be at the shops and saw you struggling with a rather heavy trolley and she simply took that heavy trolly from you and walked it to your car in full view of your friends, it might be uncomfortable.
If someone offered to help you financially because they could see that you were struggling to pay that bill or buy that needed thing in full view of everyone at the store or at church, you might just say what Aussies tend to say to avoid these uncomfortable moments. “Na, She’ll be right, mate”!
What is so hard for Peter when Jesus comes around with the towel?
What is so hard for you and I when someone offers to help?
Peter’s words suggest this difficulty we have with being served by one greater than us is to do with a mixture of humility and pride.
One the one hand, we know our lowly place and don’t want to ‘big note’ ourselves above others or be found out in our secret weaknesses.
On the other hand, we want to be self-reliant because then we take the glory for any good we do. On both counts we are misguided when it comes to the good news of Jesus.
In terms of humility of knowing our place – we get it wrong when we leave no room in our heart for God’s acceptance already given fully in Jesus. Yes, we have our place, and yet he accepts us, loves us, shapes us in his way fully and freely, so there is no need to resist his acceptance and serving of us.
In terms of pride in ourselves, we get it wrong there too. We are needful of many things from the Lord to love freely, live courageously and serve like him.
So whether we are uncomfortable with Jesus and others serving us because we have this false sense of humility that we are too bad for God’s goodness or this prideful belief that we don’t need God’s goodness, we need to hear good news from the servant King tonight.
Unless he washes us clean we cannot have any part of his goodness.
Unless we allow him to serve us in our false humility or false pride we will never find true freedom to live fully and freely in him.
He says he serves us to bring blessing to our lives. He challenges our sensibilities not to be cynical or harsh or demeaning at all. He says that as we receive him and follow this serving way he will bring blessing to our lives.
Peter gets it right in the end. “Lord, wash the whole of me not just part”. “Jesus, serve me and I will receive your loving service of me through others not with any fear or false belief. I will gladly receive your acceptance and help in others, not turning them away and pretending I am too bad for your serving or too good for it, – I will simply say thanks”.
As Easter arrives and the fullest most painful, alone, and darkest act of serving love for the whole of all creation by this self-less Servant Saviour who is God and human breaks in again, there is only one question tonight.
Will you let him serve you?