Brent Beasley preached this sermon on Maundy Thursday at Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth
John 13:1-17, 31-35
Now 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. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then 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. 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.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus 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.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” After 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? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
. . . Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
There is actually nothing original or brand new in these words of Jesus that we are to love one another. The commandment to love one another goes back much, much further than Jesus himself. It is one of the themes that is cited again and again all through the Old Testament. And Jesus had certainly repeated those words again and again as he walked the ways of the earth during the days of his flesh.
So, what, then, is the special nuance that made this final mandate at the last supper so special and so memorable, as it is, right down to this very moment?
John Claypool, in preaching on this text, said that he believed what made Jesus’ words unique and special was that qualifying phrase that Jesus added: as I have loved you. Not just Love one another but As I have loved you, love one another. [“Loving as Jesus Loved,” John Claypool, Day 1, 2004]
In other words, the unique way that Jesus had incarnated that ancient ideal, the specific way that Jesus loved, was to become the pattern of how the disciples, and that includes us, were to love one another.
So, the seminal question, then, is, Exactly how did this one, who became what we are so we could understand more fully who God is, actually and practically love?
Claypool says St. Augustine has given us two clues to such a question. He once observed that Jesus loved each one he had ever met as if there were none other in all the world to love. In other words, Jesus radically individualized the love he acted out toward others.
Instead of never seeing the trees for the forest, as the old adage goes, Jesus reversed that process and never failed to focus on the particular and the unique in each human being. This represents an extraordinary
commitment and discipline, especially because, even in Jesus’ day, he came in contact with many, many people and, therefore, must have found it tempting to lump people together in categories, in classes, and to allow the forest mentality to blind him to the genuine uniqueness of each human being.
Now to be sure, only Jesus can actualize this ideal completely. But here is an aspiration to which I would say all of us could commit ourselves and that is to grow in our capacity to individualize our loving energies.
There’s a little story about a boy who’s trying to learn the Lord’s Prayer, and one night as he knelt by his bed, these words came out:
Our Father, who are in heaven
How do you know my name?
That kind of individualized and personal love of God will always remain a mystery to us mortals, and at the same time, let’s not forget we are made in the image of that extraordinary love. And doing what Jesus did in loving each one he ever met as if there were none other in all the world is at least an ideal toward which we can reach even if it always remains beyond our complete grasp.
The second clue St. Augustine offers about how Jesus loved is that Jesus loved all as he loved each. The way he loved was not only individualized, but it was also incredibly universal. I do not know which of these qualities is more amazing, but, again, Augustine’s description remains true to the memories that we’re given of Jesus in all four of the gospels.
Those eyes out of which he looked when he lived upon this earth were never filled with contempt or disdain. Even when the words Jesus spoke assumed a note of harshness, it was because of a concern that he felt for those whom he addressed. They were never words of hatred.
It’s often said that the opposite of love is not anger or hostility but indifference. And there is not one example in all of the gospels of Jesus ever turning away from another as if what happened to that one made no difference to him.
Augustine’s words are a wonderful description of that unique way that Jesus loved and invites us now to love also.
He loved each one he ever met as if there were none other in all the world to love, and he loved all as he loved each.
I have been fascinated with the whole story of Pope Benedict’s resignation of the papacy and then his replacement with Pope Francis. And I will tell you, the symbolic decisions that Pope Francis has made at the beginning of his tenure have really impacted me and captured my attention.
First, of course, was his choice of the name Francis. St. Francis is remembered for his radical humility and giving away all of his possessions and care for the least of God’s children.
And so far Pope Francis has been true to his namesake. From the beginning he has shown a tendency to opt for plainer, simpler dress—forgoing the traditional red designer shoes for his own plain black ones and going with plain white linen robes and vestments instead of the ornate red and gold outfits that Pope Benedict wore.
And we found out two days ago that Francis does not plan on moving into the regal and spacious papal apartment at the Vatican. Instead, he is planning on staying in a room in the same hotel-style residence he checked into when he arrived at the Vatican before he was elected Pope.
After his election in 2005, Pope Benedict commissioned 200 architects and specialist builders to renovate the papal apartments which consist of more than a dozen rooms as well as quarters for staff and a terrace and have been home to all Popes since Pius X moved in back in 1903.
I guess the papal apartment will remain vacant for now as Francis shows no sign of moving in.
What really got to me, though, is what Pope Francis did today. Rather than celebrate Maundy Thursday at St Peter’s Basilica, the new pontiff instead opted to go to a juvenile prison in Rome to celebrate Holy Thursday’s Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, at which he washed the feet of 12 inmates.
Popes have washed people’s feet before on Maundy Thursday, but usually it is the feet of retired priests or cardinals. And it takes place at St. Peter’s Basilica. Not a juvenile prison. Apparently never before, until today, has a pope washed the feet of a woman on Maundy Thursday. And it just so happens that one of the women whose feet Francis washed today is a Serbian Muslim.
This isn’t the first time he has done something like this. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, the then Cardinal would celebrate this Mass in a jail, a hospital or a home for poor or marginalized people.
The statement from the Vatican about this said that over years past, the groups among which the now-Pope led the Lord’s Supper liturgy included drug addicts and HIV/AIDS patients as a way of highlighting Christ’s preference for the “least” in the eyes of the world at his table.
I have to say, when I read this a couple of days ago I was really moved and convicted. It surprised me how almost emotional I felt reading this. I think part of it is this: We live in a time where the public witness of Christian leaders consists almost exclusively of making statements on issues and taking stands on issues.
And here is something so radically different than that—so much more like Jesus than that.
Jesus is at the table with his disciples. They are reclining and eating. The sounds of conversation fill the room. Oil lamps flicker. While this is going on, Jesus gets up from the table, strips off his outer robe, wraps a towel around his waist, pours water into a basin, and begins to wash the disciples’ feet.
This would not be all that unusual were he one of the household servants. The disciples have probably had their feet washed before. But he is not one of the household servants. He is their teacher. He is their Lord.
As he moves from one to the other, they fall silent, until all you can hear is the splash of water being poured into the basin over dusty, callused feet. Peter objects, as I’m sure I would have, but Jesus persists.
And Jesus says, I’m giving you a new commandment. Love one another as I have loved you. This is how everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
The good news for every one of us to hear today is not only that we are loved by God in this marvelous way, but also that this is our deepest identity as well and is a way we can choose to live our lives.
You and I, with the help of God’s unfailing grace, can grow into the wonder of
loving each one as if there is none other in all the world to love and
loving all as we love each.