Jesus calls us to whatever it takes
For three years, Jesus has been trying to teach his 12 students what it means to follow his Way.
Tomorrow he will suffer the searing agony of death on a cross. In spite of the torture just ahead, Jesus still is more concerned about the Twelve. They must understand before he leaves.
This evening he has one more opportunity to show them what it means to be like him.
Peter and John had been sent to prepare for the supper. But one of them apparently forgot to arrange for a foot washer to be present.
In a place where the roads are unpaved and people walk almost everywhere they go, this is a terrible mistake. In the rainy season, you are ankle deep in mud. In dry season, it’s a sea of dust. Washing your guests’ feet when they enter your home is both a practical and social necessity.
The job of washing feet was so dirty that no self-respecting Jewish man would do it. It was a chore reserved for slaves. If a male slave was Jewish, the man of the house would make his wife do it!
So you can imagine the discomfort in the room. The disciples arrive for the meal, ready to have their tired feet refreshed – and no foot washer is there to serve them. Can you hear the grumbling and blaming going on? Luke’s version of the story says the disciples sit there and argue about which one of them is the greatest. In other words, which one will have to do the foot washing.
Can you imagine the pain Jesus feels? Here he is, facing a horrible death, and the Twelve are embroiled in a stupid argument.
Can you imagine the shock and horror the disciples feel when their teacher – the Messiah, the Son of God – wearily gets up to do the dirty chore they are all too proud to do? If they think it is beneath them, it certainly isn’t something Jesus should have to do.
But Jesus has been trying for three years to tell them differently.
“You know that in this world kings are tyrants, and officials lord it over the people beneath them. But among you it should be quite different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all. For even I, the Son of Man, came here not to be served but to serve others, and to give my life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)
Jesus stood the Twelve on their heads that night. They all wanted to be great men. Jesus wanted them to understand true greatness. He knew pride would keep them from making the tough sacrifices required to finish God’s Revolution. Humility wasn’t any more common a virtue then than it is now, but Jesus made it a badge of discipleship.
But there’s a bigger question: Jesus knew he faced a horrible death on a Roman cross. How could he submit to execution and not run away?
For the same reason he could do slave’s work.
Jesus knew who he was and what God was doing with his life. That gave him the strength to kneel down and wash his students’ filthy feet – even those of the man who was betraying him. It gave him the strength to walk straight toward his death on the cross.
When Jesus looked toward the cross, he didn’t just see death. He also saw resurrection. Because Jesus knew what his death would accomplish, because he knew what lay beyond the grave, he was willing to walk deliberately into suffering and death.
By washing feet that night, Jesus showed the Twelve what it meant to be like him. Then Jesus gave them an even better example of how far his love was willing to go. He allowed himself to be taken by a mob, convicted in an illegal trial, and brutally murdered – with only a prayer that God would forgive his killers.
Does that give deeper meaning to the Mark 10 quote above? Jesus valued the freedom of slaves above his own life. He was determined to sacrifice his own life as a ransom to buy freedom for all of us, when we were held hostage by evil. Jesus intended to prove just how much God loves us. He would not turn back. His single-minded goal was to open a way for us to be restored to God.
Jesus endured the punishment we deserved as God’s enemies. He did justice for us on the cross so we could have new life – full and free and forever. Those who follow him give up their lives so others can find new life. Following Jesus means learning how God wants to do justice through your life and putting that mission above everything else. Even if it means doing the dirty, thankless chore. Even if it means suffering and dying.
Jesus calls us to put aside our pride and self-centered preoccupations and just do what needs to be done to bring God’s justice to others. He calls us to love and serve even those who are going to take advantage of us and abuse us. He calls us to do whatever it takes, so others can be reconciled with God and experience his shalom.
Adapted from this sermon.
Think about it
What is the most humbling experience you have ever had?
How could a lack of humility keep someone from fulfilling God’s mission for his life?
‘Here we are, dying from hunger …’
In Syria, Khalid* and his family were self-sufficient. Then war changed everything. Attacks on their village sent them fleeing to a neighboring country. The family walked day and night, in freezing cold and rain, for four days. They were welcomed in Jordan and given warm clothes, but they had no way to make new lives for themselves. “We fled from Syria so our women and children would be safe,” Khalid says, “and here we are, dying from hunger and lack of shelter.” Click here to read more.
Next chapter: The cost of salvation