Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Most Awkward Supper

I am still recovering from my accident. I am in a nursing home, doing physical and occupational therapy and waiting till my bones are strong enough for me to relearn how to walk. The chaplain here graciously asked if I would do a Maundy Thursday service in our dining room. So here is the homily I gave from my wheelchair at the Eucharist. 

We associate holidays with family dinners. And they are supposed to be joyous occasions. But every family has that one person who can make it anything but. Aunt Clara who won't forgive her sister for getting the ring that she swore mother said she left to her. Or Uncle Bill who can't stop going on and on about his conspiracy theories that border on racist and make everyone uncomfortable. Or the nephew who knows everyone's sore points and just keeps pushing buttons until someone gets upset. Many holiday dinners are really awkward because most of us are trying not to trigger heated discussions of old gripes and grudges.

Imagine how Jesus felt at the last supper. He knows he's going to die tomorrow. And he knows who is going to betray him to the authorities. And that guy is right there at the last meal Jesus is going to have with everyone he loves before his execution. So what does Jesus do? He washes Judas' feet.

Footwashing was one of the worst jobs a slave might have. Everything ended up in the streets: garbage, animal waste, run off from businesses. And people wore not boots but sandals. So cleaning someone's feet when they came indoors was a practical necessity as well as a sign of hospitality. And it was relegated to the lowest of slaves.

And Jesus decides to do this for his disciples. Including Judas. Why? To show the humility that comes with real love. For instance, nobody likes poopy diapers but when you are a parent, if you love that baby, you buckle down and change those poopy diapers. Love is not full of itself, to paraphrase part of 1 Corinthians 13:4. Love gets its hands dirty if that is what's necessary for the person or persons you love.

Jesus was showing his love for all of the disciples, even Judas. Did Jesus love Judas? Yes. Did he like what he knew Judas was going to do? No. And it's become popular these days to denigrate the saying, “Love the sinner; hate the sin.” But that's what you do when someone you love is doing something destructive or self-destructive. Unless you think that the parents and spouses and children of thieves, swindlers and murderers have to be fans of their crimes and be indifferent to their victims. The alternative is that you love such people despite the fact that you hate what they are doing to themselves or others. People are complicated and so are relationships. If it were easy, there wouldn't be so many broken relationships. Or broken people.

We don't know why Judas decided to turn Jesus over to his enemies. Was he disillusioned with the kind of Messiah Jesus was turning out to be: a healer and forgiver rather than a holy warrior, bent on overthrowing the pagan Roman occupation of Judea? Did he think he could galvanize Jesus by putting him in a situation when he would need to issue a battle-cry if he was to survive?

We don't know. John tells us that the devil had entered into Judas. The devil doesn't do that uninvited. But surely Judas wasn't like a comic book villain, embracing evil for evil's sake. He must have thought he had a good motive for what he did. In fact he thought he knew better than Jesus what was the right thing to do. Which reminds me of another disciple who thought the same thing. 

Back in Mark 8, right after Peter tells Jesus he is the Christ, the Messiah, Jesus begins telling the disciples how he is going to be condemned and killed by the authorities. And Peter turns around and tells the man he just called the son of God that he was wrong. And Jesus says to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan. You are setting your mind not on God's interests but on men's.” In human reckoning your leader must always be a winner. You certainly don't want him to die, especially in an ignominious fashion like being nailed naked to a cross by a public road, like a slave or a traitor. But Jesus says that is precisely what his followers must be prepared for. He says, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” To the world that sounds like the recipe to become a loser. Only in the light of resurrection, of eternal life, does that make any kind of sense.

Judas did not tell Jesus what his beef was nor did he discuss it with his fellow disciples. He secretly contacted Jesus' enemies and offered to lead them to him after hours when Jesus wasn't surrounded by the crowds. Despite all of his self-justification, he must have known that what he was doing so furtively could not be right. But he did it anyway. Just like us when we know that what we are about to do will not pass muster in God's eyes. That's the essence of sin--thinking we know better than God and ignoring that still small voice that says we're wrong, that we are going to do harm to ourselves, to others, to our relationships, and especially our relationship with our loving heavenly Father. Paul Tillich said the opposite of faith is not doubt but certainty. It's that certainty that we know and understand things better than God that allows us to do terrible things in his name.

Jesus' response to all this was to wash Judas' feet. What was going on in Judas' mind at that point? Did he miss the point? You don't destroy a person just because you disagree with him or don't always understand him. You don't stab people in the back. You love them. You help them. You serve them. You wash them. You don't think about how right you are. You don't think about yourself at all. You think about them. What do they need? What can you do about it? And then you strip, and tie a towel around your waist and you get to work.

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