The Interrupted Meal (Day 38)
John tells us that He gets up in the middle of the meal. Other gospel writers did not want to interrupt the supper, but the youngest disciple thought it was important to let us know that, somewhere between the appetizer and the main course, Jesus cannot continue with the meal. Something is wrong. The host is petrified. (Codes of hospitality were, still are, in the highest esteem in the Middle East.) The problem is not with what is or isn’t on the table. The problem sits around the table. The disciples are breaking bread together, and they are also dividing up Jesus—or better said, they are hoping for a helping of the Messiah’s prestige and power.
“Can you please bring me a basin with water?” He asks the petrified host. The owner of the house is trying to understand what the water is for, as he rushes upstairs, leaving a trail of water behind. Hearing the steps and splashing, Jesus gets up from the table and begins to undo his outer clothes.
The meal is interrupted. They are looking at him, and each other. Peter says, “No way,” and the others look away. The host puts his hands on his head in disbelief. Jesus checks the temperature of the water. “It is warm enough,” he says, kneeling down, and adds, “Do this . . .”
Why would he do such a thing? “Let me teach you a lesson in humility”? No, that was not what He said or did. Jesus washed the feet not to make them feel bad. The Messiah did it because he did not see any other way of resolving the apparent tension within each one sitting around the table—the struggle to reconcile being a community and hanging on to egos. In the midst of the clamor for the title “Best in Discipleship,” Jesus turns the rules of the game on their head, interrupting the meal. He offers them something completely different to chew on: “Do this . . .”
“Do this” meant not exercising a random act of momentary humility, three or four times a year. Jesus washes their feet, not as a demonstration of humility, but because it was his habit. Every eye was on Him, and bare-chested and on his knees, He teaches one of his last lessons—how to turn humility into a practice.
How do we form the habit of humility? First, we take the outer clothes off. We make ourselves vulnerable. We take off: whatever covers our deeper aspirations and ambitions; whatever makes us look weak in the eyes those who wish us well or ill; whatever expectations we place on ourselves; whatever social obligations are imposed on us. When the extra layers of fleeting success or bravery no longer sit heavy on our chests, we kneel, and not because we have to, but because we deeply desire to see and to feel what He saw and felt from the vantage point.
Then comes the water. The water in the basin reflects our image. It is a mirror. Looking at ourselves in that vulnerable state surrounded by a circle of friends can be a powerful exercise. Seeing not only what is reflected in the basin water but even deeper—seeing the unseen—can open our eyes in a remarkable way. And then we catch sight of the other, whose feet are about to disturb the reflection in the water. It is a lot like baptism, isn’t?
And when we are done, we go back to the table. We are back with people who no longer divide but share Jesus. Why? Because when they have looked down at the basin they have seen His reflection, and when they have looked at the cross, they have seen their reflections. This is what our God does for us. Just like that—He does it out of the everyday habit of reflection of the cross.
Tonight our 4 Days with Jesus begins with a service of fellowship and sharing. At 7:00pm in the Sanctuary, we gather with guided readings, prayers, and reflection, centered on Communion and the ancient practice of washing one another’s feet. We begin our journey with the meal that forms a community. Hope to see you there!