Recovering Biblical Sanity - John 13:1-20

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.”
— Jesus, John 14:1

This world is troubling. It's troubling on many levels in fact. In John 14:1, Jesus offers himself as a way to untrouble us in the midst that which is troubling. My desire to enter into a week-long media fast this week, and to invite you into that with me, is to take John 14:1 seriously. These are troubling days within our world, our nation and our city. And the things troubling us are not trivial. They matter. This media fast is not an effort to detach us from these realities. It is an effort to help us sort through them in a more focused and sane way.

Rather than taking our cues from our carefully curated newsfeeds, this is an attempt to have our thinking biblically ordered; to have our emotions biblically filtered; to have our understanding biblically formed; to have our interactions and engagement biblically rooted; to have our total responsiveness biblically grounded. So, I'm reading through John 13-17. This is a summary of the Christianity our world needs from Christians right now, according to Jesus. Here are the first twenty verses:

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not 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, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”
John 13:1-20

This is a familiar passage to me. It's probably familiar to you too. I don't have any new ground-breaking insight here, but to perceive Jesus in this scenario, with the pressure building, when we are in an intense time is helpful.

Jesus isn't washing the feet of the disciples at a convenient time. This is not Jesus getting a break from the demands of daily life and getting into a sentimental frame of mind. This is Jesus in the heat of battle; at a moment of anguish; at a point of real human weakness. Jesus had every right to be irritable, impatient and self-centered from a human standpoint. He had every right to take a break from humility and lowliness of heart. He had every right in this moment to assert his own rights. And yet he took again the posture of a servant.

The Bible tells us a lot about humility. But Jesus shows us humility. And that's the thing... Humility isn't just internal, it is something observable. We aren't humble because we think humble thoughts or imagine humble actions, or wish humble things. Humility isn't about taking the low place mentally or emotionally, it's about the low place actually... in reality. Humility is born in the heart to be sure, but it is an animating and energizing force.

Read the text again if you need to. Jesus is not theoretically humble. Jesus is practicing humility. Verbs are all over the passage. Following Jesus means more than thinking of yourself as a servant. Following Jesus means living as a servant. We take the posture before our friends - and our enemies - which he himself took. Certainly a servant is not above his master.

This is so hard. I don't like to serve. I like to be served. I don't like taking the low place in social environments. I like having a place of honor. I don't like to be overlooked or ignored. Neither do I like to be criticized or corrected. I like to be noticed and affirmed. Right now, in our world, the easy thing is to say something, post something, attend something, declare something, or learn something. What is hard is to do something.

It's easy to criticize and blame and accuse and throw stones. It's hard to build bridges. It's hard to place ourselves beneath others or to inconvenience ourselves for the good of others. Yet that's what Jesus does in John 13. He shows us a way through our most pressurized scenarios, when our hearts are most troubled and our world feels most fragile.

Get outside of yourself. Get outside of your head. Get outside of your echo chamber and your insulated, self-protective bubble. Get on your knees. Be willing to embarrass yourself and get your hands dirty by doing the things no self-respecting person would do. There is something we can all do today to forsake a place of honor, or even a place of middle-class mentality, and take the low place. That might be in your home with yoru family. That might be with a neighbor or a co-worker. That might be with an extended family member or old friend who has alienated you but still needs you.

The biggest challenge here is that we don't even want to do what is best for us to do. We need the help of Jesus to follow Jesus where only Jesus will lead us. But more than that, we need the help of Jesus to want to follow Jesus where only Jesus would lead us. Taking the place starts there. Admitting that we want to avoid the low place and spend most of our lives figuring a way out of the low place. And then, while we still don't feel like it, we follow Jesus to that place and discover that Jesus is powerfully with us there.

Our world right now needs followers of Jesus in every place to follow Jesus to the place. Pride and brashness and "look-at-me-ness" is everywhere. The people around us really need an encounter with the meekness, kindness and "how-can-I-serve-you-ness" of Jesus, through their Christian neighbors.

It is a crazy thing to follow Jesus and have boundaries around his claim on our lives. He said in verse 15, "I have given you an example, that you also should do just I have done to you." Following Jesus means taking actual real life steps, regardless of our feelings, to go where he leads us. Biblical sanity means rejecting our imaginary barriers which excuse us from obedience to Jesus. Biblical sanity renounces the distorting impulse to feel entitled to all the rights of children of God while neglecting the corresponding responsibilities of children of God. Jesus has dignified us beyond our anything we deserve in ourselves, and you and I have the chance to dignify those around us beyond what we think they deserve.

Let's stop worrying about fashioning some image of ourselves, or what people think about us, and start worrying about how we image God by serving other image-bearers of God. Who are you going to help today? Who are you going to treat as worthy of your best? For whom are you going to inconvenience yourself in order for them to encounter the heart of Jesus? Whose feet are you going to wash?

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