And The Point Is...?

Maundy Thursday 2024

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The Gospels traditionally presents Jesus in four portraits: Matthew presents him in its theme as the King, Mark as Servant, Luke as a human, and John as … well … God. It is in the Gospel of John where we find not-so-subtle-hints of Jesus doing and saying stuff that is associated with God revealed in the Old Testament. So, when new believers are initiated into the fold, the Gospel of John is a must-read with the goal of cementing in their minds that Jesus is God. Got it? Let us now move on with other stuff like, discipleship, ministry, and so on.

That is where it usually leads to and ends up—Jesus is God. From then on, it’s the story of the Passion of Christ, climaxing with Charles Wesley’s hymn:

    “Amazing love! How can it be That Thou, my God, should die for me “? (And Can It Be).

But there is something in there that zips by and is understated by how we have been taught to read and present the Gospel of John. Just when the part where the Passion story begins, there is this almost innocuous verse:

    "It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to 
     leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he
     loved them to the end" (John 13:1).

That was from the New International Version 2011 edition (NIV 2011); the original 1973 version translates the list line as:

    "Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his

I have a love-hate relationship with the NIV because it is so familiar with me to the point, I know almost everything wrong with it. Of course, none of the translations are perfect and I treat the NIV as a friend I grew up with complete with its flaws and … er … features. Especially interesting is when they change things—and this is one of them.

The word behind "loved them to the end"/"showed them the full extent of his love" carries more than those two alternative versions. They are both correct but neither completely captures its meaning. That word carries finality, totality, and whatever else short of hyperbole: if it were to be said in today's social media, it would be screaming in all-caps shouting "THIS IS LOVE!" Given the context of John’s theme: “THIS IS GOD’S LOVE!”

But wait—are we not taught that God’s love is demonstrated by dying on the cross? That is the whole point of the Holy Week—right? But that does not happen until maybe seven chapters later. Okay, maybe John wants to us to see the Passion story as a whole? But the nuance of the older 1973 translation, speaks of now--"he NOW showed them the full extent of his love." At this point, the disciples had no hint of crucifixion and were concerned with the immediate issue—washing of the feet.

The story goes on from here where Jesus washes feet and the exchange between him and Peter.

     Peter: “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

     Jesus: “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

     Peter: “No, you shall never wash my feet.”

     Jesus: “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

     Peter: “Then, Lord, not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

     Jesus: (face-palms)

Well … sorta. Let’s just say Jesus was frustrated at that moronic logic. Peter was reacting “normally”: the leader/the teacher/the “superior” gets their feet washed, not the other way around. The follower/student/slave/servant should do the feet washing. Jesus understood enough to know that this might go over the disciples’ heads: “… later you will understand.” But Peter goes on with his wash everything else as well which misses the point and even ruins Jesus’ metaphor. Yeah—he’s that stupid that he can break Jesus’ logic. But more of that later.

Then Jesus saying something that is rare: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet …” (John 13:14). That is rare because he hardly declares himself “Lord” and “Teacher”—others do. Jesus himself says that in the previous verse. More often than not, in times where people ‘discover’ that he is “Lord” and “Teacher”, Jesus runs and hides from those who want to worship or crown him.

But here, he emphasizes that very thing: “Lord”/”Teacher” … and in the context of John, we can add “God.”

God washed your feet.  God served you. THIS IS GOD’S LOVE! This is what makes God, God!

Call it progressive revelation or whatever, but up until this point, everyone thought like Peter: God is to be worshipped, served, and have his feet washed.  Jesus flips it and shows that it is the other way around. Being God is to serve and that the full extent/the end of God’s love (“sukdulan”/”hangganan”) is in giving one’s self to others in service.

Washing feet is an expression of service; dying on the Cross is also an expression of service, albeit unique to Jesus and his mission. Peter reduced that to simply the act of washing of feet, hands, and head—and ruins Jesus’ point. But the point is this: God serves—name another religion which teaches that.

I have considered other religions: but almost everything else is merely a projection of our human desire to be the big guy/the alpha male/the boss, because that is what is “normal.” Conversely, we cling to those in power (“wash my feet, hands, and head as well”). But what is revealed by Jesus is NOT normal—it did not come from our fallen human desires.

Allow me to add something from Filipino logic: “I served you—you owe me.” On various levels, there is a transaction between people where I do something and expect something in return. We call it “utang ng loob” (debt of gratitude). “Random acts of kindness” does not work too well in the Filipino context because it only makes the receiver of the “kindness” paranoid. Apply that to this: God served us—we owe him. Except...

EXCEPT—we pay it forward to others!

True worship then is not some churches’ ritual of feet washing ever so often. True worship is not having the Lord’s Supper once a month or on Maundy Thursday. It is not feeling sorry for Jesus getting nailed on the cross once a year or celebrating him on Christmas.

Worshipping God is as simple as being kind to others.

Miss that—and Jesus says “you have no part with me.”

"In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
    who, being in very nature God,
       did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
    rather, he made himself nothing
       by taking the very nature of a servant,
       being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death –
        even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:5-8).