Meditation – Lent 2 – February 25, 2018
1Now 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. 2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table,£ took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then 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. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10Jesus 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.” 11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12After 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? 13You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16Very truly, I tell you, servants£ are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
Last week, the first Sunday in Lent, we heard the story of Lazarus and we all seem to know that story, where Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. Well, we asked ourselves some very important questions, we wondered if we were willing to follow Christ, all the way to the cross, and as we did that we also asked ourselves what we needed to die to in our own lives, or what we needed to be unbound from in our own lives, to truly make the decision, to take that journey with Christ and to follow.
This week seems to be about water. We know that water is something that every living part of creation needs to live. I think that it is interesting how important water actually is to us and sometimes I think we don’t even realize. Take these past few weeks – how many have been watching the Olympics? What would we have for the winter Olympics without water? You see we use frozen water to throw granite rocks on, to skate on, to play hockey on, to slide on in sports like luge, skeleton, and bob sleigh. Then we have water that has been turned from a gas to a solid that is used for skiing, jumping, and snowboarding. Water is important to much that we do in our lives. Yet in our story today, as in many bible stories, water takes on new meaning.
We continue to find ourselves in John this week and we have moved ahead a couple of chapters to chapter 13. In our reading this morning, Jesus has already entered Jerusalem and it is the evening of Jesus’ dinner in the upper room. John’s version of this story is much different from the other 3 Gospels, as they all highlight and focus on the breaking of the bread and the wine, while John seems to just gloss over this part of the evening and focuses on washing of the feet. As I studied this passage I came to see how radical this was, and in turn what it means for us today and on our Lenten journey. You see, in ancient times, it was not unusual for people to have their feet washed when they entered someone’s house as a guest. Even if they had bathed prior to coming as a guest, the majority of the people only wore sandals and so their feet would have been dusty and dirty from the walk to their host’s house. So that part of the story in not unusual. What is unusual is the fact the Jesus washed the guest’s feet – you see, generally it was a servant who washed the feet of the guests who arrived – it would not be anyone but a servant, and it definitely would not be the host. Yet given the story as it unfolds, we see some deeper meaning in what is taking place.
During this, Peter once again challenges Jesus. This seems to be a recurring theme with Peter as he challenged Jesus when he spoke about his suffering and death, and so when Jesus lowers himself to wash the feet of others, Peter challenges him; “He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” But I wonder if maybe what Peter is saying to Jesus is actually; “Really, how low are you going to bring yourself? What are you doing, you are doing the work of one of the lowest of the low.” It is as if one was forced to watch a dear friend, or one that you loved, take on doing a humiliating task, and so who wouldn’t say; “Don’t do that!” And so in using water, Jesus brings himself down to the level of one that serves. But what if this use of water does not mean that Jesus actually demeans himself, as it appears that Peter is concerned with, but rather, that Jesus, in washing the feet of those present, destroys all sense of hierarchy as the master serves and then tells the rest that they too will be serving; “12After 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? 13You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” In this understanding we come to see that there is no one that is above another, all are equal.
If we are to truly understand this, we must also then rethink our ideas of how we marginalize others in the world, much like in Jesus’ time where there were classes of people, because this idea will require a new way of living in the world. Father James Martin, Jesuit scholar, states this in the following way as he quotes Sandra Schneider, a New Testament scholar; “There is no domination by anyone, but rather an invitation to equality. This may help to explain Peter’s strong reaction: he sees that this requires, as Schneiders says, “a radical reinterpretation of his own life-world, a genuine conversion of some kind which he was not prepared to undergo.” In this understanding we see that water then plays a part in what might actually be seen as a time of transformation and if we think about it, that has been true of this idea of water throughout the scriptures.
Water and transformation have been a theme from the beginning. In Genesis, we heard that the Spirit of God hovered over the waters of creation, and from this water land was born. We then see that the sky came in the midst of water, it is our first indication that the power of water is the power to transform. Then, in the Exodus story, the entire nation of slaves moves through the divided water of the Red Sea and becomes the chosen nation of God, given the laws and instruction that will transform them from slaves to God’s people. In the new Testament, we hear of Jesus being baptized in the river Jordan, and as he comes up out of the water the heavens open up and the Spirit of God descends on him. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, God speaks and this marks the true beginning of Jesus’ ministry in the world. Then, here today, we used water in Wyatt’s baptism to represent the Grace and Love of God passed on to Wyatt, grace that can and does transform a life.
Last week we spoke of what we need to let die in our lives, what we need to be unbound from in our lives, but I don’t believe that is the whole challenge of following Christ to the cross. We need to understand that, just as water transforms, we need to be transformed. Just as Jesus, who, as a revered teacher, got down on his hands and knees to wash the feet of his followers and guests, we need to see each other as those whose feet we would wash. In that washing we are all transformed, we are washed clean and come anew to God. Lent is truly a time of repentance, but also a time to allow our brokenness to be washed away, and to wash away the brokenness of another. A time when we let go, knowing that Grace of God which is found in the midst of water, especially today – Wyatt’s baptismal waters. It is a challenge to allow ourselves to enter into time, to wash another’s feet, to be transformed in the washing and the water, to be a follower who understands that there is no one above anyone else, that we are all the same. So, will you be transformed? Will you enter and use the water, that will forever change you, as you follow Christ on the journey of life, on the journey of true transformation? Amen.