Who’s In?

John 13:1-9, 12-15

Betrayed by a close friend; facing imminent torture and eventual death; surrounded by friends who have no clue what’s going on, and little apparent interest in trying to figure it out. That’s the context in which Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. Nothing romanticized or sanitized about this at all. Here is the Word that existed beyond time – both source and final purpose as the Greek liturgy put it – the creator of all that exists or ever will exist, kneeling on the floor at the feet of an all-too fallible group of followers, a towel around his waist, performing the most menial and degrading tasks of a slave. As one scholar puts it:

As the cosmos turns on its hinges, the Incarnate Word, who was with God in the beginning, stoops to love to the bittersweet end those whom the Father has entrusted to his. It’s a shattering moment of blessing.

Now, for sure, we can interpret all of this literally – that we share in Jesus’ love when we liturgically wash each other’s feet. Yet, in the context of Jesus’ passion, and in John’s context in which such a washing takes place at the Last Supper, that seems a wee bit to superficial. Something deeper is going on here:
  • This is an image of, and call to, radical, subservient love.
  • As Jesus is present in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, so too is he present in acts of faithful, radical, subservient love.
  • As we (the Church) are washed in our Lord, then we are enable to wash others – our neighbors.“Washing” is not restricted to water. We are washed/cleansed when we listen to (believe in) his word; hear words of forgiveness; are restored to relationships; eat his body and drink his blood; receive his love and grace, and so forth. We wash others when we “go and do likewise” as we learn in Luke’s Gospel:

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 13:25-29).

It is then that Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, at the conclusion of which Jesus gets to the heart of the matter: “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise” (vs. 36-37).

What does radical love of neighbor look like? That’s a great question for SAKLC to address as we gather for a Festival of Ministries. What a great question to ponder as we receive the invitation to declare “I’m in!” It can be radical to say: I’ll volunteer to… I’ll get involved in… I’m invested in… I’m inspired to… I’m in tune with…

There are so many reasons to say, “I’m not in!” We can feel underappreciated; too old; been there done that; or too busy. And then there’s that dreaded phrase justice ministry. To many, that sounds like a mere code word for “politics.” Yet, remember what I wrote a few months ago:

In Hebrew the word most frequently translated as justice is mishpat. In Deuteronomy 18, the priests in the tabernacle are to be paid their mishpat, their due – that which is their right. And, a quick glance through the Old Testament reveals that justice is a verb – one is to do justice. Startlingly, within the biblical context those on the receiving end of justice are not the criminals, but rather what some scholars refer to as “the quartet of the vulnerable” – widows, orphans, the immigrant, and the poor. This quartet contains those who in Hebrew society had the least power, lived the most fragile of lives, and had no one of blood to defend or support them. Thus, neglect of the neighbor (especially the quartet) is not merely an absence of mercy, love or charity, but an injustice. It should now come as no surprise that the Hebrew word for righteousness (tzadeqah) has less to do with personal morality but instead describes a life lived in a web of relationships (tribe, family, society, synagogue, world) typified by fairness, equity, and love; in which one “does” justice.

So, while I truly understand the reluctance of some folks to embrace ministries of justice for fear of being politically duped, I fear the opposite even more. I fear a Church that sidelines itself in the name of political neutrality, and which loses its prophetic voice and the biblical concepts on which a life of faith ought to be shaped:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;

and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

This Micah Mandate describes what it is we are to “Go and do likewise,” just as surely as the parable describes to whom and for whom we must do it – our neighbor. And Jesus washing the feet of the disciples shows us the lengths to which we are called to go – the radical nature of our Christian love, and the humility behind our actions, as we do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.

Can the response of a person of faith, in a relationship with Jesus, ever be anything short of “I’m in!”?




Pastor Ken+