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03.21.21 The Forgotten Lesson of Jesus’ Last Meal John 13.2b-5, 12-17, 20 Sermon Summary

by on March 22, 2021

Jesus’ last night in the Gospel According to John’s is quite different from the other Gospel accounts. First, it does not occur with the Passover meal but the night before. Second, the teaching and prayers of Jesus span five entire chapters in John. But the most unique aspect of John’s Gospel was omitted by the other Gospels and is still largely neglected by the church today. It is the forgotten lesson of Jesus’ last meal.

NB: This sermon is delivered in first person.

Hello my name is Eliezer which means “my God is help.” I’m a disciple of Jesus. No, my name doesn’t appear in the lists, but I was there with many others at Jesus’ last meal.

It was Passover week and lots of pilgrims had come to Jerusalem to commemorate our feast of freedom. Some came to celebrate, others to reconnect with religion. Some came with a knife to grind with Rome.

We came with Jesus the rural Rabbi from Nazareth in Galilee. He inspired us with his teaching, some of which was new and some was just new spins. He gave us hope with his healing, some of which was physical and much of which was spiritual.

We were excited to go to Jerusalem and to share Jesus with more people. Some of us have big plans for this Jesus-movement. We need to grow in our numbers. We need to increase disciples if we are to succeed. And things looked pretty good early on. We had a political demonstration march to start the week, then we staged a protest in the Temple. Jesus taught, healed, and disputed with the religious authorities. The crowds were loving it.

To us disciples Jesus had also been talking a lot about other things. He taught that giving up life was the key to finding it. He said the Kingdom of God belonged to children. And earlier a woman anointed Jesus which he said was for his own death. He even said that her actions would be remembered in the tales of the Kingdom.

And Jesus often said things like, “the greatest among you will be the servant of all.” We jockeyed for greatness all the time. James and John asked for the thrones to the right and left of Jesus in the Kingdom. They also wanted to rain fire on the Samaritans who didn’t show us hospitality.

None of us want to be servants. We don’t want to be slaves—especially to “all.” We debated whom Jesus meant by “all.” “All his followers,” said some. “All Israel,” said others. “All men,” some said.

Interpretations aside, Jesus in his own ministry eventually included Romans—even soldiers and politicians, children, and women like that anointing woman and the women at the meal tonight. Which brings me to my story.

We want to grow our numbers but Jesus seems to want to reduce them. Here’s what happened tonight. Jesus often uses props in his teaching. While we were all reclining at table enjoying our meal—talking, listening, and some laughing—Jesus quietly got up, put on a costume of a slave, filled a basin with water, and started washing our feet.

Talk about awkward! None of us had thought about that. There wasn’t a slave in the house to do it so we just didn’t do it. Peter, a climber like James and John, refused at first until Jesus said he couldn’t share in the Kingdom with Jesus without the washing. Then he demanded a whole bath!

Well, eventually Jesus finishes, puts his Rabbi clothes back on, and starts teaching. “You call me Rabbi and Master,” he said, “Teacher and Lord, and I don’t doubt you. That’s what I am. You listen to my instruction. You sometimes serve me.” That sometimes stung a bit . . . “So if I, your Teacher and Lord, become your slave and wash your feet, so you should do the same for one another.”

I thought about our earlier debates, the ones about “all.” Now I wondered about this “one another.” It makes sense to serve one another among the followers of Jesus, to help out other followers of Jesus.

But then I remembered the meal at Simon the Pharisee’s house and the Roman centurion’s slave Jesus healed. I remembered the Royal family’s son, also healed, and the son of the widow at Nain, raised. I thought about the daughter of the Canaanite woman Jesus healed and all those in the crowds Jesus fed without qualification.

I was remembering these things when Jesus said, “The world will know you are my disciples by the love you have for one another.” I realized, “one another” doesn’t mean us; it means the world. This is why we followed Jesus to begin with. Jesus came to us, to those of us who felt so worldly, like such failures, like hypocrites. Jesus came to us and he served us.

I didn’t really get it until this week. I listen to the Teacher’s words; I confess the Master as Lord. But that is not enough. Jesus isn’t just our Rabbi and Lord. He loves us. And in a grand display of that love he washed our feet. He served us. He became our slave. “Call me Teacher and Lord,” he says. “But above everything else, love me and love others as I love them.”

You know we’re called “disciples” but are we really? Do we really shape our lives around his teaching? We’re called “fools” but do we act foolishly like the anointing woman? We are called “messengers” but do we proclaim God’s Kingdom in this world? We are called “servants” but do we serve others as slaves?

Jesus also calls us “friends” but are we really? Do we really love him? Because if we did we would serve him. We would serve one another. And we would serve the world.

Jesus said whoever receives the slave receives him. And whoever receives Jesus receives God. If we want people to know God and to receive Jesus, then we have to serve them. The thing that counts most is faith working through love. (see Galatians 5:6)

Well, it was an amazing meal. We had lots of meals with Jesus. People remember different things about them. This one we’d rather forget. Who wants to be told their relationship with Jesus as “teacher and lord” is incomplete? Who wants to be told we’re supposed to be slaves to all?

This is not Jesus’ most popular message. Like I said, it seems he was trying to reduce our numbers, ‘cause it makes me wonder about myself. Can I make the move from disciple of Jesus to slave to all?

With the faith of Jesus growing inside me I believe I can. My name is Eliezer, after all, “God is my help.” I believe, Lord. Help my unbelief.

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