Ok, so I’ve succumbed to the temptation to post some thoughts and see what kind of response I’ll get.
John 13:1 – 11
Last night I watched my recording of Tony Campolo on the Colbert Report. It was not necessarily good television, in that Tony isn’t so much a tongue-in-cheek kind of guy, but it was good in that he is the kind of guy that isn’t intimidated by pretty much anyone. He sat there on Comedy Central and talked about how different the world would be if we all took the words of Jesus seriously. Not something you often hear on Comedy Central, but I appreciated it.
I’ve been stuck in the beginning of John 13 because I’ve found it newly perplexing on many levels. Here are the first few verses:
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,a 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.
The things I’m finding interesting are first the phrase “he loved them to the end.” Other translations say, “he showed them the full extent of his love.” I find that interesting that that phrase is used here and not other places, say, the crucifixion. Keep that in the background for a minute. Verse 3 is the kicker for me right now because basically what it’s saying to me is that Jesus had a strong sense of identity and mission and was therefore able to show the full extent of his love by engaging in the lowest act of servitude. Interesting note in verse 2 – Judas was already set to betray and Jesus knew it, yet he washed Judas’ feet. The institutional church in our culture is all about big things, all about spiritual “personalities,” all about the next major trend, etc. I think that is largely because we don’t know who we are or what we’re called to do. We are totally the sheep who’ve gotten so busy about grazing because we think we need to be “fed” that we’ve wandered away from the shepherd and now we’re just sitting there.
This passage is one of the reason that my friend Kenny says that John 13-17 is the most dangerous passage of scripture: it challenges our comfortable cultural Christianity. If we really were secure in who we are, what we’re supposed to be doing and where we’re going to end up, it would be no problem for us to wash feet, be gracious, love people to the end, even when we know betrayal is inevitable. Doing something big, being known, etc., is just not what we’re about. It’s so alluring, but it’s ultimately and empty experience. The question we should be asking is not, “what can I do to get myself noticed?”, but rather, “how can I love better?”
So I would ask myself, am I ready to do the lowest thing without ever being appreciated? Frankly, I don’t think I am. I want people to think that I’m gifted and value my contributions.
This story seems to me to be the gospel in a nutshell. The church in America seems to have reduced the gospel to information that is to be disseminated for the purpose of recruiting people to attend our own central gathering.
I write this on the first day of Lent, just to remind myself of the chain of events that follows this story.