Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A Case of Worthiness (John 13:1-17; 31-35)

This is from our Holy Thursday service:

What was he thinking?

Jesus chose this final Passover meal with his disciples as the time to offer them his most meaningful teachings and perform two of the greatest acts of love of his earthly ministry. He transformed part of the Passover meal to become communion, a ritual Christians have shared ever since his day. He demonstrated the true greatness of his love and leadership by washing his disciples’ feet – surely one of the least pleasant pre-meal activities I can imagine.

That’s all well and good, but he did these things when all 12 were there, which means he did them for Judas as well. He told Judas, “This is my body, this is my blood.” He washed Judas’ feet.

And honestly, even if we leave Judas out of the picture, I’m still not sure I can figure out what he was thinking. He did these things with the men who would scatter when the Roman soldiers came, who would show up again only at the end.

He did these things with Peter, whose public denial of even knowing Jesus could almost be seen as a worse betrayal than Judas’, since Peter had been so close to him for so long. The same man who said, “You are the Christ, the Son of God,” would also say (paraphrased), “Dammit, I don’t know the guy!”

Surely Jesus could have chosen better folks for this. People more worthy of these great acts of love. The women, for example, who stayed around the cross for so long. Joseph of Arimathea, who risked public standing by giving a condemned blasphemer a place in his family tomb. Or Nicodemus, no longer so scared of what people thought that he would only talk at night and who now joins Joseph in helping to bury Jesus. Mary Magdalene, the only one who would go out in public and visit the tomb.

There were probably others who risked condemnation and imprisonment of their own by standing by Jesus as best as they could. Instead of any of them, though, Jesus shared these amazing gifts with this group of squabbling egotists who wouldn’t even stoop to washing the feet of the one they called Master.

What was he thinking?

Maybe he thought not of who deserved the honor of these gifts the most. Maybe he thought of who needed them the most. It’s not hard to say that Jesus had already worked a transformation in people like Joseph and Nicodemus and Mary. Their lives were changed. But the Doltish Dozen still need some work.

I have to wonder how I would reflect later on that night if I’d been one of the disciples. The idea that I’d abandoned my teacher in the hour of his greatest need would absolutely overwhelm me. I might not even feel like I could live with the knowledge of what I’d done.

His living presence, felt through the Holy Spirit, might or might not be much help. It might be only a reminder that I’d abandoned not just a teacher and friend, but the Son of God himself.

Oh, and forget communion. Just hearing someone say, “In remembrance of him” would remind me all too well of that night, that last night when I’d done my best to forget who he was and have everyone else forget, too. Or at least forget I was ever anywhere near him.

I’d have to feel like the worst person, the least worthy person, the foulest sinner in the entire world. Other people might have sinned against God, but I'd sinned against God when he was right in front of me.

Until I remembered what he’d done for me before any of that happened. He’d washed my feet. He’d offered himself for me as a sacrifice. He knew I’d let him down, but he included me anyway. He knew I’d later foul myself with betrayal, but he cleaned me anyway. He knew I’d forget him, but he reminded me of his self-giving anyway.

As you may have gathered, I don’t really have to imagine how the disciples might have felt, not when I look at my own life and see how much of it parallels theirs. Your life might be different – and I know my life is different today than it has been before.

To take of his body and blood this evening is to be reminded of two things – that our Lord gave us his greatest gift, himself, when we were far from worthy of receiving it. And that his love for us is so great that he not only gave it to us then, but he saw in us the worthiness he would create in us all.

We may not be all clean. But the Lord who gives his body and blood in the bread and the cup will wash us – again and again – until we are. By his grace, the worthiness he saw is, every day, becoming more and more the actual reality by which we live.

Sounds like good news to me.

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