Scripture Reading: John 13:1-17
Have you ever had someone do something for you, an act which may have even seemed small at the time, but you realize later it was a huge thing they did?
Maybe someone bought you something you needed which you realized later was a big sacrifice for the giver because maybe they couldn’t afford it at the time or gave up buying themselves something. Maybe someone drove well out of their way to come see you when you really needed some company. Or maybe they gave up an important event to spend time with you.
I’ve experienced all those things at some point in my life. My parents drove me all over the province so I could play basketball or take part in track and field events when I was a teenager. It wasn’t until much later I realized how much they gave, and even sacrificed at times, so that I could pursue the things I loved.
And there have been times when I’ve done it as well. I’ve given up things, I’ve given up events so I could be with others when they needed some company. Would I have liked to be part of the event I had planned to attend? Sure, that’s why I wanted to go. But sometimes friendship or family is more important.
I’m sure we’ve all been on the receiving end of such sacrifice, and I’m sure we’ve all been the one to sacrifice something for the needs of people we love on occasion. Often it’s just the right thing to do even if common sense tells us the other commitment should be more important. Like, “We paid all that money for those tickets, we should use them, but Jane really needs us… so we won’t go.”
Relationships are the most important thing. Material possessions, money, concerts, even careers at times, those are secondary. Without personal relationships with other people, without friends and family, we have nothing.
So giving up money or events or trips for someone we care about, there’s nothing wrong with that at all. In fact, Jesus would probably quite like it.
This Lent we’re going to be following Jesus in the final days, hours even, of his life as we head towards Good Friday. Our readings will reflect events in those final hours as Jesus makes his way to the cross.
Today we’re seeing Jesus in the room with his disciples, and it’s their last meal together. It’s what we call today, the Last Supper.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus gets up from the table and takes on a particular role for his friends. Jesus takes of his robes, grabs a towel, ties it around his waist, and picks up a basin of water. He is going to wash his friends’ feet.
No big deal right? They’ve been out walking the dirty streets of Jerusalem wearing only sandals. There’s the by-products of all the livestock in the streets that they’ve been walking through. Jesus probably just wants to wash the stink out of the room right? Maybe he’s got a more sensitive nose than everyone else!
But he shouldn’t be doing it. Yes it is customary that guests at a meal have their feet washed. But it’s not the job of the most important person of the room. For Jesus to wash the feet of his friends would be like the Prime Minister doing it for his cabinet. It’s just not going to happen.
There are supposed to be servants who do this job. People who stand off in the shadows making sure every need is taken care of. I suppose, to take the government example it would be pages or interns who would have this job. No one of any importance, someone nameless who would never be noticed or even acknowledged by the group being served.
To wash the feet of the guests at a meal or a home is the job of a servant or slave.
It’s not a glamorous job that’s for sure. The disciples have been out walking the dusty and dirty streets all day. There’s no pavement. There’s no sidewalks. There’s no big machines to keep the streets swept clean. This is an agricultural city, with sheep and cows and all sorts of animals doing whatever they please wherever they please.
It’s pretty clear to me that the disciples realize this is a very special moment in their time with Jesus. Peter actually resists Jesus washing his feet. Which he should, because it’s not Jesus’ job! He actually says, “You will never wash my feet.”
To which Jesus says, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
Jesus is making a very strong statement here to his friends. They know someone in the position of Jesus should never be the one to wash the feet of guests, in fact he should have never even considered it as something he would do. The servants would have taken on this role automatically as part of their job in the household. The owner would never even have to ask the question, it would just happen.
And here is Jesus, the most important man in the room, the most influential, the most powerful, the leader is taking on the lowliest of jobs at the table. It’s unthinkable for the disciples that he would do this. It’s unimaginable for the society they live in for the host to do such a thing for his guests. It just doesn’t happen that way.
But we’re getting used to Jesus turning the way of thinking around aren’t we?
“Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
Sounds like there’s more happening here than just the washing of the feet, don’t you think?
Peter sure seems to realize it. He then says to Jesus, “Then, Lord, not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
Peter wants all Jesus has to offer him. He wants more, far more. If washing of feet means he gets to be with Jesus, then he’ll take all he can get.
Now, I could go off on a couple of sermons right now about the need to be washed clean by Jesus. I could preach passionately on how on the cross Jesus washed us clean of our sin by his blood. I could ask you if you have been washed clean by Jesus, by his blood, and are in a committed relationship with him.
I could do that, because it’s very important for us to have such a relationship with our Saviour. But it’s not the point of this passage we’re focusing on today.
This passage is not one where Jesus is inviting people to follow him with an important message about the kingdom of God. This is not Jesus teaching people about having a relationship with God through him.
He’s past that point now. He is hours away from his arrest and his execution, and he knows it.
In the room, eating with his friends who have been his close companions for the last three years, he has a message just for them tonight. They have a pretty good idea who he is right now, Peter has said as much when he asked to be completely washed by Jesus.
Here’s what Jesus has to say to his friends, this is his message on this night.
“Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:12-17)
What is he saying?
Here’s what I see: No one is greater than anyone else in the eyes of God.
Does God love me more than all of your because I am a preacher? No he doesn’t. We’re all the same in the eyes of God. He loves us equally. And we should treat each other just as he treats us, equally.
This is the message Jesus has to his closest friends. This is the legacy he has chosen to leave behind for his friends as he knows he will die soon.
No one is greater than anyone else in the eyes of God. And as Christians, as people who follow Jesus, we are being asked to live this out. Love and serve one another as Jesus loves us. If we love him and are in relationship with him, which is the most important relationship we can have, then we will do as he asks. Love and serve.
Now how that looks in practice can have many different faces. On the one hand, it could mean sending left over pizza to the elementary school basketball tournament when you order enough for 50 people and only 20 show up. Which is what happened here at the church yesterday. I carried over 3 full party pizzas for the kids to enjoy as not as many came to our Holy Spirit weekend for Alpha as was expected.
It could also look like just stopping in to see a friend when they are having a tough week. It could mean running some errands for someone. It could mean many, many things. It all depends on what we see happening around us and also how God is calling us to serve.
We should love and serve one another as Christ Jesus loves and serves us. And yes he does still serve us.
Christ serves us through the promises he made to watch over us and to send us his Holy Spirit to walk with us and guide us. He still blesses us and speaks to us today.
So many of you, I know, do great things helping out friends and family who need help. Thank you for what you do, it is very important and the people who receive your care and your help are greatly appreciative for all you do. Keep up the good work. You are a blessing.
Jesus has kind words for the work you are doing. In Matthew 10:42 he says this, “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”
To serve in the name of Jesus is not only a blessing to those we serve, but it is also a blessing for us. Jesus says we will not lose our reward if we serve in his name.
This is the work of the church. To love and serve others in the name of Jesus, and to encourage people in their own faith development. This is part of what we do here every Sunday morning, I hope. We come for some faith development, to connect with Jesus, and be inspired to go out and serve in his name.
On top of giving pizza to the elementary school, we also were a sponsor of the Dr. T.L. Sullivan basketball tournament last weekend. It was a wonderful gift that allowed the school to provide awards for playing a game they love. All weekend our banner hung on the wall of the gym as just a small reminder to people we are here and we are willing to help.
Of course there’s also the food bank we support, and Community CARES, the cemetery, so many great organizations we help out. Not only that, but some of you serve on boards of organizations, you volunteer time at various places, we are out there doing your best to serve.
This is how people come to know Jesus, through the visible work of the church as helping hands reaching out in love.
Just as Jesus asks us.
It’s not always about evangelism, it’s not always about going out and telling people about Jesus, sometimes it’s simply giving a cup of water to someone who is thirsty, or dropping off pizza, or sending a few dollars to a school, or volunteering at a nursing home or a school or the food bank, or just listening to someone’s story.
So many ways to serve. All things I think Jesus would have happily done as well if he were here today.
Oh wait, he IS!
Christ Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, lives and reigns with us still today, he lives in our hearts and also through our service to the world around us.
May he bless us, to be a blessing to others as we serve in his holy name.
Let us pray,
What a gift it is to serve you as we also serve others. Lord may you bless our work, giving us the joy only you can give as we do this important work you call us to do. May your Holy Spirit guide us in this work, and may those who receive also be blessed by you.
We thank you for this reminder that we are your servants in this world. We are your hands and feet, called to love and share in your name.
May you continue to guide and and lead us. And if there is opportunity, may we be so bold to share our joy and faith in you as we go.
We pray this in your most holy name. Amen and amen.