Summary: Jesus washed his disciples' feet. What did he really want to teach his disciples about service and humility?
[Sermon preached on 14 October 2018, Apostles' Sunday / 3rd year, ELCF Lectionary]
Last Tuesday, our Bible study group went through the three readings for today. We soon found that they have at least two things in common.
For one thing, they have all been taken out of context. As you may have found out by now, I usually give a lot of space to spelling out the context and interpreting the message contextually. It is important to know who, what, when and where, before we try to explain the text and think about applying it to our own lives.
From the Old Testament reading from Amos, you can get some clues concerning the context from inside the text. It does require a fairly good knowledge of Old Testament history and geography, though.
In order to understand the New Testament reading from Galatians, you need to read the whole letter in one go and look up some parts of the book of Acts for background.
Also a proper understanding of the Gospel text requires that you read at least from the beginning of the chapter.
But there is something else that these three texts have in common. They all speak about people whom God sent on a special mission. God takes these people out of their own surroundings, out of their own social and professional context, out of their comfort zone, and places them in an environment and on a mission that is painful, humiliating, and potentially life-threatening.
Amos was a shepherd and a gardener in the southern kingdom of Judah. He had a pretty predictable life. But God told him to leave his flocks and his sycamore-fig trees and go to the northern kingdom of Israel. His task was to prophesy against the king and the people because of their disobedience to God. He was to warn them that the army of the Assyrians was soon going to defeat the Israel army. The people were going to be driven out of their home country into exile.
It is obvious that he was not a welcome visitor. In facts, plots were made to kill him. And we have every reason to believe that, in the end, he was indeed killed for his message.
Amos was swift to remind the people of Israel that he was not a prophet by profession. He did not come out of a family of prophets. He did not want to prophesy. But God made him do it. — He had no choice.
The apostle Paul was a well-educated and very intellectual Jew. He belonged to the party of the Pharisees, whose greatest goal was to live in perfect obedience to the Law of God and to stay undefiled by foreigners. In modern terms, we would call him an ultra-right-wing nationalist and religious fundamentalist.
He had the potential of becoming an influential political and religious leader of the Jewish nation. But God singled him out and called him through a vision of the risen Lord Jesus for an incredible mission. Paul was called to go out of his safe Jewish comfort zone to preach the Gospel to the foreign people he loathed so much.
During one of his mission trips, he ended up in the region of Galatia, in Turkey. There, he was welcomed with enthusiasm and warmth by the non-Jewish population. The Galatians readily received and believed his message. Paul had some serious health problems when he arrived, but they took excellent care of him. By the time he left the city, there was a special bond between them.
But soon after that, a group of teachers arrived from the church in Jerusalem. They were Pharisees, just like Paul. They preached that non-Jews could not be saved unless they converted to Judaism, be circumcised, and follow all the moral and ritual laws of the Jewish religion.
Many Galatians believed what these teachers said and turned away from the Gospel that Paul had proclaimed. This caused a deep and painful conflict between Paul and the Galatian Church. The Galatians felt that Paul had betrayed them with a diluted and insufficient Gospel of salvation. Paul, on the other hand, felt like a mother whose children had ran away. He felt frustrated, abandoned, and humiliated.
In the Gospel reading, we meet Jesus, ready to send out his close friends and disciples on a lifelong mission of proclamation and service. These disciples eagerly looked forward to the time when Jesus would claim the kingship over Israel and rule the nation as the lawful Son of David. They anticipated how they would be given important positions of power, honor, wealth and influence in the royal court of Jesus. Sometimes, they were even competing openly for Jesus’ favor and asked him explicitly for the best positions in his government.
In John 13, Jesus got together with his disciples for dinner. It would be the last time before his arrest, trial and execution. As they arrived at the rented dining room, they took their seats around the table.