John 13:1-17 – Stinky Feet Love

Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, by Leszek Forczek

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. (New Revised Standard Version)

One of the reasons I like Jesus so much is that he loves me as I am, and not as I should be. Jesus loves me even with my dirty stinky feet, my herky-jerky commitment to him, and my pre-meditated sin. Jesus loved even Judas and washed his feet. Jesus serves people because they need his love, and not so that they will love him back.

I read about a man who lives in Paris. His wife has Alzheimer’s. He was an important businessman, and his life was filled with busyness. Yet, he said when his wife fell sick, “I just couldn’t put her into an institution, so I kept her. I fed her. I bathed her. Through the experience of serving my wife every day, I have changed. I have become more human. The other night, in the middle of the night, my wife woke me up. She came out of the fog for a moment, and she said, ‘Darling, I just want to say thank you for all you are doing for me.’ Then she fell back into the fog. I wept for hours to know this grace.”

Sometimes Christ calls me to love people who either cannot or will not love me in return. They live in the fog of some sort of disability, depression, poverty, or common spiritual blindness. As I serve them, I may only receive brief glimpses of gratitude. Just as Jesus loves me within my own spiritual confusion, so I desire to continue loving others as they walk through whatever fog they are in.

Lord willing, my life will be useful through my words and my witness. If God desires, my life will bear fruit through my prayers, my service, and my love. Yet, the usefulness of my life is God’s concern, not mine; it would be indecent of me to worry about that. I simply desire follow my Lord’s example.

Neither many Christians nor churches wash feet anymore. So, the following is today’s Gospel lesson put in a slightly different context:

It was just before the biggest and most important feast of the year, Passover. Jesus knew that it was finally the time for him to face the cross and die for the world’s sins. Having spent the past three years loving his followers, he now wanted to leave them with a clear demonstration of his love that they would never forget.

The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already gotten a hold of Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus to those who wanted him dead and gone. But it was all according to plan. Jesus knew that his heavenly Father had given him all authority because he was his Son, and he was ready to do what needed to be done to secure salvation and return to his rightful place at his Father’s right hand.  So, Jesus got up from the meal, rolled up his sleeves, put an apron on, and ran a sink full of hot water.  Jesus told the servants to take the night off, and he began taking the dishes from the dinner table and started washing them, taking care to do all that waiters and dishwashers would do.

When Jesus came to take care of Simon Peter’s dishes and serve him dessert and coffee, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to serve me?” Jesus replied, “I know you do not understand why I am doing this since it seems like something that is beneath me to do, but later you will look back on this night and understand completely what I am doing.”

“No,” said Peter, “this is not right – you are the Master, and this is not what a well-respected rabbi does – you are only disrespecting yourself and making us all look foolish. You are not going to take my dishes and wash them.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash these dishes and serve you, you are not going to be able to follow me anymore and you will have no part of what I am doing in this world.”

“Well, then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “if that is the way it really is, then don’t just wash the dishes – come on over to my place and clean out the fridge and scrub the kitchen floor!”

Jesus answered, “A person who has had a decent meal needs only to wash the dishes so that he can enjoy the freedom of hospitable relationships with me and those around him.  And all of you here have had a decent meal, though not every one of you.”  For Jesus knew that Judas was only picking at his food in anticipation of betraying him.

When Jesus was all done washing the dishes and serving his disciples, he took his apron off, rolled his sleeves back down, and returned to the table.  He looked them all squarely in the eye and said, “Do you understand what I just did for you?  You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Master,’ and rightly so, for that is exactly what I am.  So, now that I, your Master, and your Teacher have washed your dishes, you also should wash one another’s dishes.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  I am telling you the plain truth that no follower is greater than the one he follows, nor is a preacher greater than the one he preaches about.  Now that you know that it is your task in this life to provide humble loving service, you will have God’s stamp of approval on your life if you quit thinking about how to possess and use power for your own purposes and start thinking about how to use the authority I am giving you to love other people into the kingdom of God.

Loving Lord Jesus, how shocking it was for your disciples to be served by you in such a humble manner.  But I cannot be spiritually cleansed unless I allow you to love me in an almost embarrassing fashion.  Help me not to be so proud that I neither refuse your humble loving service toward me, nor neglect to offer that same kind of service to others.  May love be the word, the idea, and the action that governs my every motivation and movement in your most gracious Name, I pray.  Amen.

Job 4:1-21 – Where Is God?

Eliphaz and the other friends of Job, speaking down to him in his suffering, from a fresco in the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Moscow

Job, will you be annoyed if I speak?
    I can’t keep quiet any longer.
You have taught many people
    and given strength to feeble hands.
When someone stumbled, weak and tired,
    your words encouraged him to stand.
Now it’s your turn to be in trouble,
    and you are too stunned to face it.
You worshiped God, and your life was blameless;
    and so you should have confidence and hope.
Think back now. Name a single case
    where someone righteous met with disaster.
I have seen people plow fields of evil
    and plant wickedness like seed;
    now they harvest wickedness and evil.
Like a storm, God destroys them in his anger.
The wicked roar and growl like lions,
    but God silences them and breaks their teeth.
Like lions with nothing to kill and eat,
    they die, and all their children are scattered.

Once a message came quietly,
    so quietly I could hardly hear it.
Like a nightmare it disturbed my sleep.
    I trembled and shuddered;
    my whole body shook with fear.
A light breeze touched my face,
    and my skin crawled with fright.
I could see something standing there;
    I stared, but couldn’t tell what it was.
Then I heard a voice out of the silence:
“Can anyone be righteous in the sight of God
    or be pure before his Creator?
God does not trust his heavenly servants;
    he finds fault even with his angels.
Do you think he will trust a creature of clay,
    a thing of dust that can be crushed like a moth?
We may be alive in the morning,
    but die unnoticed before evening comes.
All that we have is taken away;
    we die, still lacking wisdom.” (Good News Translation)

The Christian spiritual classic, The Dark Night of the Soul, was written nearly five hundred years ago by St. John of the Cross. The gist of John’s observation is that God sometimes takes the Christian through dry times of hiding himself from the believer. 

The pain of wondering where God is and if he will even show up; experiencing unanswered prayer; enduring uncaring and misdirected comments from well-meaning people; all these and more are inevitably part of the Christian spiritual experience. 

The dark night of the soul is not to be confused with personal sinfulness. Its origin is not in self, but God. 

“Silence is God’s first language.”

St. John of the Cross

Whenever one knows with a settled confidence that personal integrity is intact, but trouble abounds, we need not immediately rush to the conclusion that something is wrong with us. It may be the Spirit of God thrusting us into a desert experience to test and approve our faith.

Job’s “friend” Eliphaz offered one of those tired age-old arguments that bad things only happen to bad people. He comes at Job with the inexperience and absurdity of making misguided assumptions. He rhetorically asks: Who that was innocent ever perished?  Where were the upright cut off? 

The conclusion of Eliphaz, therefore, was bound to be off the mark – believing secret sin must surely be the culprit behind Job’s awful misfortune. Certainly, Eliphaz thinks, Job cannot possibly go through such terrible suffering without having done something to anger God.

Times change; the basic nature of people, not so much. In today’s church and world, the same notions still endure. If I had a quarter for every time I heard crazy comments, like the following, I would be a rich man: 

“He’s poor because he is lazy and doesn’t want to work.”

“She keeps having chronic health issues. God is punishing her.”

“The pandemic is God’s judgment on us for not having the Ten Commandments in our courthouses.”

“If you just confess your sin and have faith, you’ll be healed.”

“They’re in big trouble. They obviously did something evil.”

On and on the wrong-headed statements continue, ad nauseum.

The Apostle Peter understood how to view trouble in a healthy way. He said we all suffer – both the good person and the wicked. It’s just a matter of whether we will suffer for doing good and the right thing, or suffer because of saying shallow, illogical, and stupid comments that offend God and hurt others. (1 Peter 3:17-18)

Even Christ suffered. And it wasn’t because of his own sin. It was because of ours. Jesus suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God. 

Jesus suffered; so, the follower of Jesus will suffer. There is a big picture only God sees. Whenever we suffer, there is something going on behind the spiritual scene. We must allow God to do divine work, and then, trust that the Lord bends all human suffering for good and redemptive purposes.

“Where there is no love, pour love in, and you will draw love out.”

St. John of the Cross

So, let’s change the rhetoric. Instead of jumping to judgment, reflexively hop to grace with comments like these:

  • “He has poverty of spirit. He’s blessed and will inherit the kingdom of God.”
  • “She’s in chronic pain. God has allowed her the privilege of suffering in solidarity with her Lord.”
  • “We’re in a pandemic. Here’s a chance for us to live out of the Ten Commandments.”
  • “If we confess the world’s sins of pride, hate, and injustice, perhaps God’s mercy will deliver us.”
  • “We’re in a big pickle. No better time than now to grow in grace.”

Where is God? Beside you, quietly and confidently holding you up in your suffering.

Lord God, I entrust myself to you because you know what you are doing. Thank you for the trials of life which humbles my heart to pray. Do your work in me so that my faith is fortified for a lifetime of service in the church and the world, through Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.

Song of Songs 5:2-6:3 – I Am My Beloved’s

Song of Songs by German illustrator Egon Tschirch, 1923

Beloved

I was asleep, but my heart was awake.
    It is the voice of my beloved who knocks:
    “Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled;
    for my head is filled with dew,
    and my hair with the dampness of the night.”
I have taken off my robe. Indeed, must I put it on?
    I have washed my feet. Indeed, must I soil them?
My beloved thrust his hand in through the latch opening.
    My heart pounded for him.
I rose up to open for my beloved.
    My hands dripped with myrrh,
    my fingers with liquid myrrh,
    on the handles of the lock.
I opened to my beloved;
    but my beloved left, and had gone away.
My heart went out when he spoke.
    I looked for him, but I didn’t find him.
    I called him, but he didn’t answer.
The watchmen who go about the city found me.
    They beat me.
    They bruised me.
    The keepers of the walls took my cloak away from me.

I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem,
    If you find my beloved,
    that you tell him that I am faint with love.

Friends

How is your beloved better than another beloved,
    you fairest among women?
How is your beloved better than another beloved,
that you do so adjure us?

Beloved

My beloved is white and ruddy.
    The best among ten thousand.
His head is like the purest gold.
    His hair is bushy, black as a raven.
His eyes are like doves beside the water brooks,
    washed with milk, mounted like jewels.
His cheeks are like a bed of spices with towers of perfumes.
    His lips are like lilies, dropping liquid myrrh.
His hands are like rings of gold set with beryl.
    His body is like ivory work overlaid with sapphires.
His legs are like pillars of marble set on sockets of fine gold.
    His appearance is like Lebanon, excellent as the cedars.
His mouth is sweetness;
    yes, he is altogether lovely.
This is my beloved, and this is my friend,
    daughters of Jerusalem.

Friends

Where has your beloved gone, you fairest among women?
    Where has your beloved turned, that we may seek him with you?

Beloved

My beloved has gone down to his garden,
    to the beds of spices,
    to pasture his flock in the gardens, and to gather lilies.
I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.
    He browses among the lilies. (World English Bible)

God is love. God rejoices over you. 

There is a reason why so many people in this cruel and calloused world are unloving and unkind: They are unaware that God loves them. 

If we neither believe nor know God’s infinite love for us, then our words and our actions will reflect more of hate than love. God really truly does love you and me. This is crucial. Do not forget this. Believe it. Live it. Enjoy it. Know it. Tell it to yourself until you are thoroughly bathed in it, because it is more wonderful than any ‘70’s sappy love song could ever describe it.

I believe the small book of Solomon’s Song of Songs too often gets a weird hermeneutical spin of literalism from modern-minded simpletons. For nearly all of history, this poetic ode to love was understood as an allegory of divine love for humanity – and the believer’s reciprocal response.

When the beautiful text of Scripture says I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine, and that his desire is for me, it is a wonderful way of communicating that God’s love for us is not abstract, distant, or detached. (Song of Songs 6:3, 7:10) 

The truth is: We belong to God. The Lord’s desire is for you and me. God has an intense and overpowering longing for you. Let the deep desire of God for you shape and form your thoughts so that fear is replaced with faith; loneliness with enjoyment; the fickle nature of others with satisfaction; praying as duty with praying because I want to be with the God who loves me so much.

Oh, how we need a vision of God singing over us with joy! Yes, God loves you that much! Grab a hold of what the prophet says:

The Lord will take delight in you with gladness.
    With his love, he will calm all your fears.
    He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.

Zephaniah 3:17, NLT

Even the most unlovely of people are made lovely through God’s persistent and pursuing love for them. You are being wholly seen every single day by the infinite gaze and eternal compassion of God, who watches our every step with delight.

Christianity does not “happen” simply by knowing some beliefs about God, as if it is a mere contractual signing-off on a doctrinal statement. Rather, Christianity “happens” when individuals experience the white hot burning love of God in Jesus Christ. 

Jesus came not only for those who skip church and only occasionally read their Bibles. Christ came also for the hard-hearted prick, the immoral adulterer, the strung-out addict, the terrorist, the murderer, and for all those caught in bad choices and failed relationships. 

“I have not come to call respectable people, but outcasts.” (Matthew 9:13, GNT)

“Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life.” (Matthew 28:19, MSG)

“You will be witnesses for me.” (Acts 1:8, GNT)

“Love each other in the same way that I have loved you.” (John 13:34, GW)

All Christ’s words and actions are because of the Lord’s intense desire to love the world, and to love it through the divine beloved people of God.

God’s love is never based on our performance, or how good we look to others; it is never conditioned by our moods. The love of God only looks longingly at you and me with the potential of what we can become in Christ and cares for us as we are. It is a world-altering revolutionary thought that God loves me as I am and not as I should be. 

God loves me as I am, and not as I should be.

God has shown us how much he loves us—it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us! (Romans 5:8, GNT)

Despite the erosion of church attendance, the majority of people still believe God exists. Conversely, however, many people do not believe God really loves them. We are in a crisis of love. People need to know the God who is pure Love. 

Christianity never begins with what we do for God to make ourselves lovely. Christianity always starts with what God has done for us, the great and wonderful love that exists for us in Christ Jesus.

It wasn’t so long ago that we ourselves were stupid and stubborn, easy marks for sin, ordered every which way by our glands, going around with a chip on our shoulder, hated and hating back. But when God, our kind and loving Savior God, stepped in, he saved us from all that. It was all his doing; we had nothing to do with it. He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. Our Savior Jesus poured out new life so generously. God’s gift has restored our relationship with him and given us back our lives. And there’s more life to come—an eternity of life! You can count on this. (Titus 3:3-8, MSG)

All the wrong turns in the past, the mistakes and the moral lapses, everything that is ugly or painful, all melts in the light of God’s acceptance and love for us.

If the consuming passion of Christ’s followers is not showing God’s love, then we have lost both our mission and our first love of Jesus. Perhaps we must let time evaporate, as we bow at the foot of the cross, and experientially know the great love of God in Christ for us and for the world.

May it be so, to the glory of God.

Ephesians 5:21–6:9 – Submit to One Another

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for herto make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

Fathers do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.

And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him. (New International Version)

Submission – the word itself may stir a less than positive reaction within us.

For many people, submission implies someone else is going to have authority over me – and they might not like that. To submit to another person smacks of being forced into something we don’t want, like some mixed-martial-arts submission hold where the other person taps out.

It doesn’t help when many people have past experiences in which individuals in authority neither liked them nor treated them with respect. Their visceral reaction to the word “submit” is very raw and real.

Biblically, within the first pages of Genesis, the disobedience of Adam and Eve resulted not only in a separation between God and people, but also between man and woman. The Fall had terrible consequences for them. The entire world now lives under a curse. Relations between the sexes, because of the Fall and the curse, are twisted.

To the woman, God said,

“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
    with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
    and he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16, NIV)

The phrase “your desire will be for your husband” is a Hebrew idiom (a metaphorical phrase with a special meaning). This refers to women’s urge for independence from men. 

“He will rule over you” is also a Hebrew idiom, referring to man putting woman “under his thumb” (an American idiom). 

Women, in their fallen state, work to be independent from men. They diligently try and function without them. 

Men, in their fallen state, bring a “heavy hand” (another American idiom) to women by insisting on always “calling the shots” (yet another idiom) and dismissing females as if what she has to say or think doesn’t matter, or at least doesn’t “carry much weight” (idiom again!) as a man’s words do.

The way gender relations, in the Christian tradition, are supposed to happen is based in who God is:

  • The Son (Jesus) submits to the Father by placing himself under authority. The Father, in turn, lifts up the Son to share in reigning with him in the kingdom of God.
  • The Church submits to Christ, and Christ, in turn, lifts up the Church so that she reigns with him in the kingdom of God.
  • The wife submits to husband, and he, in turn, lifts her up so that she reigns with him in the kingdom of God.

This is mutual submission – and not a matter of the boss and the bossed.

To submit simply means we willingly place ourselves under authority – the choice is with us. Forced submission is slavery and oppression – not true submission.  

To function without submitting to one another brings disorder and chaos, keeping the curse going into generation after generation. Christians, however, are to reverse the curse.

“God has bound us together in such a way that none of us should reject submission. Where love reigns, this spirit of service is mutual….  Since there is nothing more opposed to the human spirit than the desire to submit to others, Paul calls us to it by reminding us of the reverence we owe to Christ. He is the only one who can tame our rebellious spirit and subdue our pride, so that we are willing to serve our neighbors.”

John Calvin

It is important to understand how the grammar of today’s New Testament lesson is set up, because if we don’t get this, we will not practice submission well.

The main verb of the section is “be filled” with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). There are five participles which explain how the action of the main verb is to be done. Submitting is one of those participles. Submitting to one another is everyone’s responsibility.

Submission is a spiritual practice. The following people and relationships are mentioned (Note: these were intended by the Apostle Paul to be a representative list, not an exhaustive list):

  • Wives to husbands (respect)
  • Husbands to wives (sacrificial love) The head and body metaphor is meant to convey intimacy, union, and relationship, not any kind of silliness in husbands doing all the brain work and making all the decisions. Spouses are two people in one, just as the Father and Son are two in one. You cannot have two independent persons doing their own thing, any more than a head and body can operate independently.
  • Children to parents (obedience)
  • Parents to children (compassionate and empathic spiritual support)
  • Slaves to masters (obedience)
  • Masters to slaves (fair and equitable treatment)

Scripturally, we do a disservice if we only focus on how husbands, children, and slaves must submit, because we are all to submit to one another, including husbands, parents, and masters. 

Christians bring order out of chaos when there is submission to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Misunderstandings and misinterpretations of today’s text typically result in one group of people trying to force authority on another group. Proper understandings will always result in practicing humble and compassionate service to each other.

Submitting to one another means we must cooperate with one another instead of competing against each other. For example, women are to respect men by not acting as autonomous persons who have no need of those stupid men. And men are to not abuse women by ignoring and dismissing them as inferior emotional beings. Instead, both sexes will volitionally choose to submit to each other and act in accord, comity, and harmony.

All believers are to function together as God’s co-heirs and God’s co-rulers in and over God’s creation. This is the good order to which God has called us, and it is a high calling for which we need the filling of God’s Spirit to help us.

Lord Jesus, we bow down and humbly bring to you our gift of submission. Thank you for submitting to the Father until the end, achieving salvation for us. Teach us the meaning of meekness, and may our wills submit to your will. Graciously remove our disobedience and pride and shape us to your will. Guide us on the road of resigning our wills to yours. Mold our souls into total divine submission. Help us to walk in the path of righteous submission to each other, hand in hand. May we be filled with the Holy Spirit so that we will completely embody a submissive and teachable spirit. Amen.