Jesus said, “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.” (John 13:15-16)
We are moving closer to the cross. Lent is unfolding for us and with it, we begin to see Jesus path to Golgotha and crucifixion starts to unfold as well. John 13 begins a long section of teaching. Jesus has one last shot to make an impression on the disciples. Soon, the fruits of his work will be in their hands.
Jesus starts with an object lesson. His goal is to embed an image so deep in the psyche of his followers that they cannot escape it. He has just washed their feet. As usual, Peter has resisted. But Jesus has persisted anyway. God is not stopped by our resistance. God is not willing to let our “no” replace God’s “yes.”
So, what is the lesson that Jesus wants to be unforgettable? Grounded in the love of God that is made tangible in Jesus, followers of Jesus are to make that same love tangible to others. How? By being humble servants. In a world where people want a return on their investment and want to maximize their profits, etc., Jesus shows a way of life that is focused on being available to others and being willing to step down from our place in order to love more fully. So what does Jesus, the king of kings and Lord of Lords do? He kneels. Kneeling is a sign of humility and honor. It is what disciples do to their teachers. No one remembers seeing a teacher kneel before their students.
Middle America is a place where accumulation is encouraged. It is a place where we all hope to find ways to move up the ladder and have and do what we want. It is a part of the freedom that we have to assume that succeeding and having and doing more comes with the territory. Entire industries thrive on making us want things that don’t even exist yet. In the middle of this, Jesus kneels before us, strips down to the bare minimum, wraps a towel around himself, and washes feet on his knees.
Everyone except Jesus is caught off guard. Everyone except Jesus is uncomfortable. But kneel he does and as a result, the lesson sticks. 2000 years later we still tell the story, practice the act on Maundy Thursday, and try to take in what Jesus is telling us: Don’t be like everyone else. Don’t ask, “What is in it for you?” Be generous, loving and sacrificial. Serve gladly and do so, not from the place in which you live, but from the attitude that comes to us when Christ abides in us. Love is the mark of Christ. Love is the mark of the church. In the end, kneeling is, for followers of Jesus, symbolic as a way of life.