MAUNDAY THURSDAY HOMILY
Do you have good motives? I think most of us would say at least we try and have good motives. Of course, we know that none of us have 100% pure motive – by that I mean that everything we do for others we do because of them, not because we feel we ought to, or because it is our duty, or for any reward, or enhancement to our reputations or because we might call a favor in one day.
I wonder whether we would we be as eager to help others if we knew that absolutely no-one would EVER find out – that every good thing we did in the community, for friends or family would never be credited to us personally? Imagine that you saved someone from a fire engulfed building. You went into the burning building before the firefighters got their – you drag out two people onto the lawn and then, as the firebrigade arrive, you leave. Imagine sitting in a restaurant on a large table of friends and acquaintances all talking about the heroic person that saved those two people and how wonderful they are. Would you be able to just eat your dinner silently without blurting out “It was me – I’m the hero.”
Why do we help others? What is our motive? Is our motive simply to see the joy in the faces of those we help; or is it to hear the praise that is given to us – or to hear how marvelous we are, or how kind we are. Of course it is not bad to receive thanks – but it is good sometimes to examine our motives.
As a minister and someone who has the privilege of speaking from this pulpit I must examine my motives – am I preaching to try and please you all, or God – am I enjoying the attention and the few accolades at the end of the service or am I more concerned with sharing with you what I think the Lord might be saying this evening.
Why does Jesus wash his disciples feet? What was his motive? Was it to prove how good he was – how humble he was? No. His motive was far greater than that.
His actions were certainly shocking to the disciples. Peter is so shocked by Jesus’ actions that he says “You shall never wash my feet.” What was so shocking?
Well, Jesus was adopting the stance of not just a servant, but a slave. And not just a slave, but a non-jewish slave. Foot washing was SO menial – so lowly that even Jewish slaves would not be expected to wash feet – only gentile – non-jewish slaves were seen to be lowly enough to do this.
Not in his wildest dreams would it have occurred to Peter that he, or any of the disciples, let alone Jesus, would wash feet.
What was Jesus’ motive?
His motive was to not to show off his humility but to challenge and to visually show the disciples something. He wanted to challenge and show them that they were not to embrace a Messiah who was powerful – but they had to embrace and follow a Messiah who served even in the most menial ways, not to make themselves great, but to glorify the Father.
Remember that this foot-washing happens in the shadow of the coming cross.
Peter is shocked at the humiliation Jesus is putting himself under and he refuses at first to accept it – but in a few short hours Jesus will again put himself under the intense, magnified, public humiliation of the Cross. If Peter rejects this, finding foot washing too humiliating to bear – he is not going to cope with the cross. If he rejects this, he rejects the Cross.
That is the point of Jesus’ response to Peter. If I do not wash you have no share in me. Salvation, the forgiveness of sin’s – relationship with the living God is all about embracing the humiliation of the Cross – embracing the Messiah who allowed himself to die in our place. Peter has yet to learn this. And Jesus is telling Peter that he has to not just accept that the Messiah would be completely humiliated for him – he has to accept it – embrace it and live it out.
Peter is not yet at this place and he does not understand. His overeagerness rises again, and he tells Jesus – wash my whole body then.
Jesus gently teaches him – Peter and the disciples have accepted and believed in Jesus – that faith, although it will be tested over the coming hours, will cleanse them – Jesus demonstrates physically with the disciples what he is about to do spiritually – to cleanse and wash them from their sins. After Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus entire work of humiliation, which leads to his glorification will become clear to Peter and the disciples.
[The cross is a once for all event – it deals with the core issue of our sin – it is the fundamental cleansing that Christ provides – and while we still have to have our subsequent sins washed away through confession and forgiveness – the fact we CAN come to the Father and receive forgiveness through prayer and our confession is BECAUSE of the cross.]
So why is footwashing not a sacrament in the church today? Well, Jesus tells his disciples that he has given them an example.
It is not the act that is necessarily important – but the principal that underlays that action.
If the Lord of glory is willing to become as lowly as the lowliest of slaves and willing to do the lowliest of tasks to those who are below him, how much more are the disciples of Jeus to do the same.
But the example did not stop there in that upper room. The example continues to the cross – echoing Jesus’ words to the disciples “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
The example of Jesus Christ is proclaimed so loudly in these verses.
We are charged by Jesus to do as he did. To serve selflessly – to serve lovingly and even to serve your enemy.
Is it not even more remarkable that Jesus not only adopts the position of a menial non-jewish slave and not only washes his friends feet – but that he washes his enemy’s feet too – the one who will betray Jesus.
In the midst of all this there is Judas. There he was reclining at the table and he too had his feet washed by Jesus. But Jesus says, “Not all of you are clean.” Jesus knew that despite this awesome sign of new birth which Jesus bestows on Judas, Judas in his heart utterly rejects the sign and the action.
This is a fearsome warning in the middle of this great teaching. It reminds us that we can receive the most wonderful tokens of Gospel reality – whether they be Communion, Baptism or Church Life – YET, we may still fundamentally reject all that the light of the world offers to us because we do not embrace the humiliation of the cross and the crucified messiah.
The church in the west has not always responded to the charge of embracing the humiliation of the cross as completely as it might. When non-believers, or even new believers look at the church do they see this example of Christ in action – enacting the principle that underlays the washing of the feet – the service, the willingness to be humiliated in the service and proclamation of Jesus Christ – the willingness to lay down our life.
Think about the Senate in Washington, or the State Senate of South Carolina. Why are they not debating
how to respond to the radical actions of the church in our society today as the Roman Government had to in the 2nd Century with the early church? What about the command of Jesus that “you should do JUST AS I HAVE DONE FOR YOU.”
As Christians, serving or service is not an action – it is an attitiude – it is a lifestyle – it is part of the gospel. But we serve not to just help people – but to draw them to Christ. We serve with one finger pointing to the Cross.
As we approach Good Friday and Easter Sunday, let us meditate on whether we have embraced the Christ of the Cross – have we embraced both the humiliation and service, as well as the resurrection and the glorification. Are we serving Jesus Christ in a way that is beyond our comfort zones – even serving those who reject us and are our enemies.
This has been Jesus’ challenge to us through 2000 years of the Church – the totality and utter commitment that Jesus calls us to in his service. That the question is not whether we will serve or go to Church or worship or give some time – but whether – in our embracing of Jesus Christ and his ways, how we can bring our entire lives and families under the all encompassing service of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.