Thursday, April 17, 2014

Maundy Thursday: The man in the ditch

In John’s gospel, Maundy Thursday begins with Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. When Jesus gets to Peter, Peter refuses. It’s remarkable how difficult it is for good, religious people to receive help and care from other people. They are used to being in the position of being the helper not the helped. Whether we like to admit it or not, being the helper is a position of power. It’s a good kind of power, mind you, but it’s power nonetheless. Being the one who is being helped places us in the position of being powerless. Most of us hate being powerless.

I was reminded of this recently during a conversation with a group of preachers. We were talking about all the different ways we preach the parable of the Good Samaritan. Usually, when we preach that passage, we preach it from the perspective of those who either give or refuse to give help. We preachers are always calling people to be like the Good Samaritan, to be the kind of people who help their neighbors. While these are good sermons, they are ultimately sermons about using our power for good.

While that is an important and essential point of the lesson, one of my preacher friends suggested that the passage could also be preached from the perspective of the man in the ditch. This is a sermon about being powerless. This is a sermon about receiving help, even from unlikely sources. The man in the ditch was likely a Jewish person. What did he think about being helped by a Samaritan? He may have been so near death that it didn’t matter that it was an enemy who offered him help. On the other hand, the ethnicity of his helper may have tormented him more than the beating. The text doesn’t say. I know plenty of people who are willing to help people they don’t actually like but would be beside themselves if they had to receive help from those same people. Remember, the helper is the one with the power. All of us have people to whom we’d rather not grant the power of service.

Peter didn’t want to cede power to a God who was willing to make a fool of himself in front of others. I confess that I’m the same. I want a God who keeps to protocol. I want a God who avoids embarrassing me in front of other people. What I get is a God who doesn’t care about such things. He is a God who cares about me, though. The question is will I receive his help? What if his help comes from a source that embarrasses me? What if his help comes from someone I consider an enemy?

Maundy Thursday reminds us that to be a part of Christ, we must be willing to receive not just the help we want from God but also all the help he wants to give: even when his help embarrasses us; even when it exposes the worst parts of us; even when it reveals the parts of us that we keep hidden from everybody else like our preference for power over powerlessness. Especially then. To be a part of Christ requires that we yield all of our lives to him, even the ugly parts. So today, on this Maundy Thursday, before you get to Christ’s commandment to love one another, first you have to be willing to take off your shoes and let him wash your feet. 

So, where in your life do you still need to receive the Savior’s love? From whom might you need to receive it?

Peter said, “You shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me”- John 13:8.

No comments: