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Maundy Thursday - John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Sometimes the people around Jesus spectacularly miss the point.

When Jesus tells his disciples he's going to die and tries to teach them humility and servanthood, they start arguing about which of them is the greatest.

When Christians in Corinth celebrate Communion, some get nothing while others get drunk.

When Jesus speaks to his compatriot Jews, they say, We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone.

That leaves a bit of a plot hole in the Passover story.

Tonight, however, it is Jesus who misses the obvious.

Celebrating Passover with his disciples, the high festival of freedom from slavery, Jesus becomes a slave.

Is it any wonder Peter is so furious?

Becoming a slave at Passover is like killing people on Easter or stealing from children on Christmas; he is missing the point entirely.

Why wouldn't you deny and betray a rabbi when he so blatantly denies and betrays his tradition?

On one of the holiest days of the year, he ignores the story and issues a new commandment; he is denying and betraying God.

Tonight it is Jesus who needs to repent!


The disconnect is summarized and updated beautifully in a tweet from Pastor Benjamin Cremer:

We want the war horse.

Jesus rides a donkey.

We want the eagle.

The Holy Spirit descends as a dove.

We want to take up swords.

Jesus takes up a cross.

We want the roaring lion.

God comes as a slaughtered lamb.

We keep trying to arm God.

God keeps trying to disarm us.

Tonight, the God who's got the whole world in his hands picks up water and skanky feet.

The God whose robe hem fills the temple puts on a towel.

The God of glory drops to his knees and washes dusty, smelly, gnarled, tired, grimy, gross feet.

This is a new low.

This is the high pinnacle of incarnation.


What Peter doesn't know yet, what few of us can ever fathom, is that Jesus is setting us free.

We are no longer slaves to Pharaoh, but we are still slaves.

We are slaves to our egos.

We are slaves to what other people might think of us.

We are slaves to our status, our security, our certainty, and our need to be in control.

We are slaves to our phones and our finances.

We are slaves to comparison, competition, and scorekeeping, the unholy trinity of misery.

We are slaves to our agendas, our assumptions, and our conclusions, including and especially religious ones.

We are slaves to sin, the fundamental disconnect from God, both within us and around us, in our hearts and habits and also in our homes and neighborhoods and society.

We are slaves to the way we think things are or should be.

Jesus wants to set us free.

Jesus wants to lead us to pass over from this to there, to the promised land he calls the kingdom

of God, a completely different reality where dignity is inherent and cannot be bought or sold or stolen.

In that realm we cannot really imagine, slaves are valued as beloved children, and their service is worth executive pay.

Tonight, Jesus is promoting his disciples to slaves.

He is elevating them from followers to leaders; he is lifting them down to their knees.

Rob Bell notes that the goal of a disciple is to follow the rabbi closely enough to gather the dust of the rabbi on one's feet.

Now Jesus washes his dust away; now they are no longer students but masters.

Now they are promoted from disciples to apostles, from somebodies to servants.

Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these...he tells them in the next chapter.

You're going to be greater than I am.

You will be lifted even lower than slaves.

You will serve the world with the dirty hands of true love.

You will set others free by living so differently they might deny you, they might even destroy you, but they won't be able to ignore you.

You will live by one hard, holy, haunting, life-giving commandment—to love one another as

crazily and counter-intuitively and freely and fully and beautifully as I have loved you.

You are now free from religious expectations, the holiday script, the dreary patterns of the past, the anxiety of the present, the grip of addictive entitlement, the pressure to succeed and be somebody.

You are free to look down and see your neighbor's needy feet.

Climb down and climb off the social ladder.

Let go of your frantic and your fear and pick up a towel.

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