Sunday 11 March 2018 Feet Washing Martin Baker
The first 11 chapters of John have sometimes being called ‘The book of signs.’
Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding. Abundance, celebration, new meaning in old customs.
Overturning the tables and upsetting those involved in the Temple Worship. A sign that Jesus brings a new living relationship with God - a different way of worshipping.
A visit by Nicodemus at night. Talk of God’ enormous love for the world, and the Spirit which blows where it wills.
Stories of Jesus bringing healing, of calming of waters.
And today, in this story we hear about the culmination of these signs. Life out of death. Lazarus coming out of the tomb.
All speaking about this word of God which has become flesh coming into the world. All speaking about the light that shines in the darkness. All speaking about a faith that leads us into a new understanding of ourselves as God’s children.
And we have come to this moment – this hour that has come defining the nature of Jesus and the God whom he reveals
1 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. 2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 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. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" 7 Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." 8 Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." 9 Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" 10 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." 11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean."
12 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? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 lf you know these things, you are blessed if you do them."
One of the things I discover and enjoy when talking to people is that everyone has a story.
You get into a conversation and people tell you stories about things that happened to them in their lives. And sometimes the stories people tell you are about what happened last week, and sometimes they are things that happened many years ago.
I was writing this week to a friend of mine who farms in South Africa. I was wondering how he was getting on. Over the years he and his wife have helped build schools and hospital in their community.
They are very conscious of historical injustices and have made it a life time commitment to serve in their community. But in writing to John I realise that I have not seen him for 35 years. We met on a kibbutz in Northern Israel.
But even though that time has passed I find it very easy to recall the memory of those times. Very intense, being there, but one of the pleasures was getting to know John.
I think we all probably have stories that come to mind. Recent stories, distant ones, that in many ways define us. And sometimes these stories are about sad things or tragic things and sometimes about wonderful moments. But we can keep going back to them.
And that’s good if the stories we go back to are encouraging and positive and uplifting. But if they are stories of loss and pain and failure and missed opportunities hurt, or grief. A challenge in our reading today is one of setting aside and taking up. Of hearing another story which in the end, and unusually, Jesus commands that we make as a central story in our lives.
Today we hear of one of the defining stories in all of scripture.
13 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.
So we have travelled from months to weeks and days and now an hour. His hour. This defining moment that is going to define all the other moments. The lens through which all the other days and months and years are going to be looked through. What does that hour look like?
2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him.
And then at that moment, at that hour that defining moment, the devil turns up. Diablo. Satan the Accuser. Beelzebub. The Lord of the flies. Or the Lord of the dung heap. All those words we find in scripture that shift around to describe the presence of evil in the world.
The challenge that has perplexed scholars, theologians and almost everyone who wondered about these things, since the beginning.
If God is indeed sovereign, creator of all things, then what is Satan doing turning up at dinner time?
Let alone have influence over Judas son of Simon Iscariot?
For the first thousand years of Jewish faith and history Satan wasn’t an evil figure really. Read about Satan in the book of Job. Satan was more the one who said so God, you really want to find out what Bob or Sally is really like, lets test them, let’s put some trouble in their way, lets tempt them, and see what they are really like. Faith in you God, might be easier enough in the good times, but what about when warts and boils and pestilence and poverty turn up?
Too many b grade movies, too much fantasy or imagination. The devil doesn’t promise us destruction, but promises greatest. Promises us fame, fortune, or, at the very least, the end to our problems. That big Loot sign by the Tip Top factory. Just imagine. It’s a powerful thing.
The devil entering Judas heart. He didn’t turn into some strange head twisting gurgling creature. He betrays Jesus for money, for fame, maybe to be appreciated and valued by others. The pain, suffering and destruction is always in the small print when it comes to the devil.
2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him.
So let’s put aside our fantasies, and our imaginations, and think of the subtleties. You deserve this Judas. You’ve earned this. It’s time you got a bit more of the credit.
And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.
What is Jesus doing? Judas over there with Satan in his heart. Jesus over here, What’s he doing with that towel?
Celsus who was a Roman scholar from the 2nd century researched what Jesus looked like. He was looking for reasons to disparage Christianity. He interviewed people. From Jews and others he questioned, he heard, according to witnesses, that Jesus “wandered about most shamefully in the sight of all”. He “obtained his means of livelihood in a disgraceful and importunate way” – by begging or receiving donations. He wore a basic tunic, the clothing of a poor man, and looked rough. Swarthy dark hair that almost certainly was not long.
So again, we need to put aside all those romantic images, maybe even those images that Satan has put in our heads and our hearts. Not the image of prosperity and success, but a poor man, probably small in our standards, dark.
There’s Jesus taking off his outer robe, a most likely a simple undyed shawl that would have probably reached to his knees and tying a towel around himself.
Remember this is the same Jesus who we are told knew that the Father had given all things into his hands and that he had come from God and was going to God.
5 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.
It goes against everything. Even the stories we’ve enjoyed hearing so much in scripture. The ancient stories in the Old Testament. God defeating the armies of Egypt and delivering the Hebrew people to the Promised Land. The great conquests of Saul and David. The defeat of the Babylonians by Cyrus the great.
All these stories of might and triumph awe and wonder. The bad guys finally getting what was coming to them. Jesus washing the disciples feet, including the feet of Judas with the Satan infested heart.
Such a different understanding of love, such a different understanding of power and authority. "The Father had given all things into his hands" .
When we read that first we might expect this to mean that Jesus would have "dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him" We can read those descriptions in the Old resettlement . In Daniel. That’s what the expectation was .
But with Peter, we can’t believe it’s that radical and that simple. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" 7 Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." 8 Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." 9 Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!"
All the things we bring with us today. Our sense of success and failure. The things that intimidate us or we fear. Our own sense of inadequacy or the burdens we have carried for as long as we can remember. To lay these things down and to follow Jesus. With Peter today. To put aside our assumptions and our theories. To discover something so hard to believe and so simple to do.
To follow Jesus and to find our purpose and the meaning of our lives in service to another. To make this our moment, our defining hour. A story at the centre of our lives . A new commandment. Not a request or a question or a suggestion. A new commandment. You’ve got to do this. To love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
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