I love Jesus. The more I know this God man, the more I see him in scripture, the more I learn to hear his Holy Spirit voice in me; the more I love Jesus.
There is much to love about Jesus. He is, after all, the creator; the answer to every question; the one who knows and loves the Father best; eternal and eternally faithful; perfectly safe and totally terrifying; the most completely relational being ever. What draws me deepest into love with him is the way he lived out his human life. His perfect human life.
Don’t misunderstand. He lived out the same hard things that we face. Bizarre family dynamics; misunderstood motives; false friendships and betrayal; people who followed him only for what they could get out of him; intense physical pain and mental, spiritual, and emotional anguish … all of the stuff of life. What I love about Jesus is how he perfectly navigated an imperfect life. His responses and actions are all ‘right’. He demonstrates what the word righteous means – He lived right. I love him and I want desperately to be like him.
I see righteousness demonstrated over and over in Jesus’ life, but there is one incident in his life that speaks profoundly to me of how he lived a right life. I see it as one of those moments for his disciples that would stay in their heads, hearts and senses for as long as they lived. Let’s take a look.
The Passover Meal that Changes Everything
It is late afternoon on Thursday of a week of following Jesus from Bethany to Jerusalem. The disciple’s emotions run high in response to so many opposing experiences. Six days earlier at a dinner party at her home in Bethany, Mary poured pure nard on Jesus’ feet and then wiped them with her hair in a display of extravagant love. Lazarus, newly resurrected from the dead, reclined at the table near Jesus, the one who raised him, as a large crowd of Jews gathered outside to see this one who was dead and who now lived. These crowds, these Jews choosing to follow Jesus, alarmed the chief priests so much that they plotted to kill Lazarus even as Judas plotted betrayal of Jesus. The next day the crowds come to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem heard that Jesus was traveling toward the city from Bethany. They came out to meet him as they would meet a king, laying branches before him and shouting praise! Jesus and his disciples enter Jerusalem in triumph.
A short time later the disciples hear Jesus speaking more and more openly about his coming death. He tells some Greeks in the crowd who have come to see him that “The hour has come for the son of man to be glorified.” He shares openly “Now my heart is troubled” and “Father, glorify your name!” And then with the crowd the disciples hear a voice from heaven declare “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.”
Soon Jesus sends Peter and John to find and prepare the upper room where together with the disciples he will celebrate the Passover meal. These rugged, travel-worn men come to this well-loved celebratory meal in their best clothing, washed and anointed, as clean as they can possibly make themselves. As they climb the stairs to the upper room scents of roasting lamb, burning oil lamps, boiled egg, chopped apple and sweet spices burden the air. Each man is a walking history, an individual story lined with memories of childhood family Passover celebrations inter-written on their hearts with the great redemption story of the angel of death passing over the children of Israel as they slept behind door posts painted with the blood of the Passover lamb.
The men find their places reclining at the table. They are among friends, with the teacher that they love and respect. As in any group, there are undercurrents to the surface congeniality – uncertainty of place; secret and not so secret ambition; disagreement with certain leadership decisions; distrust and betrayal. As they settle into a place where all has been made ready, one thing is missing. No one acknowledges it because certainly it is not the job of any of these men to fulfill this ceremonial and social obligation for the others. It is so far beneath them that, although they are likely each acutely aware that it is missing, the fact of its absence is nearly unmentionable.
The evening meal is being served with the timing and order of an age-old ritual. Jesus rises from his reclining position, an act not in the flow of the evening’s agenda. He removes his outer clothing and wraps a towel around his waist. The men are all riveted, not understanding how what Jesus is doing fits into the evening’s program. Astonishment and horror gradually grow on the men’s faces as one by one they understand what Jesus is about to do. The gospel of John says of this act that Jesus “… showed them the full extent of his love.” Jesus washes their feet.
They will never forget this night.
(To be continued….)