Summary: Jesus is a true leader. He’s got followers. He’s got a great vision of the future. He knows his hour has come, the hour for the Son of Man to be glorified. And Jesus is forward thinking
Sermon by Rev George Hemmings
I wonder what you think a leader looks like? We asked that question at the CLAY small group on Friday night. Actually we asked people to draw a typical leader, and their qualities, and this is what we got. I wonder how that matches up to your ideas of a leader? I think there’s some pretty good descriptions in there. Confident, forward thinking, respectable. Few supermen there. Glad that at least one person drew a female leader. A few people drew tall, strong powerful. All in all, I think a pretty good likeness! And I didn’t have to pay anyone anything to write those things! What would you add?
If we use that list as a guide, Jesus is a real leader. He ticks a lot of those boxes. He’s got followers. He’s got a great vision of the future. He knows his hour has come, the hour for the Son of Man to be glorified. The hour has come to depart from this world and go the Father. Along with this Jesus is forward thinking. As we saw a fortnight ago, Jesus has withdrawn from public. He’s spending time with the disciples, preparing them for what’s to come. He’s preparing them for the Cross, and he’s preparing them for what comes after that. We see that in today’s passage as he tell them, they won’t fully understand what he’s doing just yet. And Jesus speaks wisely, he’s a good orator, and is knowledgeable. The disciples call him Teacher. They also call him Lord. At this point might just be a polite title, the equivalent of ‘Sir’ today. But in time the disciples will realise that he’s the LORD. And Jesus is certainly powerful. ‘3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands.’ He’s got absolute power and authority. And he’s a leader who takes charge, who’s in complete control. Even in the face of betrayal of Judas, Jesus knows what is going to happen, and is even in control of this as we see in verse 27.
What do you think a leader is like? To help us think about this, we’ve decided to host a leadership seminar at church today. We’ve asked a few people who are influential leaders in their workplaces to hold a seminar to help us think about leadership. So I’d like to welcome to the stage, Guy, Ian, Ruth and Chris. [To those reading online, at this point the St. Thomas' Youth Group performed a short skit. You should listen online!] Thank you very much! I should say any resemblance to figures real or imagined is entirely coincidental.
But in this passage Jesus does some very un-leader like things. He’s gathered with his disciples to share a meal. (That’s a good thing for leader’s to do). It’s likely the Passover supper. Everyone’s taken their places at the table. It wouldn’t have been a nice big dinning table like we’re used to, but a low table, probably U shaped. As was the custom, especially at important feasts, they were probably reclining. Resting on their left arms, ready to use their right hands to eat, legs pointing away from the table. But during the meal, perhaps just before, or just after the food has been brought out, Jesus gets up. John says he took off his outer robe. That’s a polite way of saying he stripped down to his jocks. He takes everything but his loincloth off. I don’t know about you, but that’s not something I’d expect a leader to do. In fact if we’re at a staff lunch and Chris was to do that, I’d be pretty shocked. But what Jesus is doing is dressing down, to the level of a slave. As shocking as that would be, what he does next is even more incredible.
‘5Then 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.’
This is unheard of. A child might, maybe, wash their parents feet. A disciple might, maybe, wash their master’s feet. But most often it was a job left for a slave. In fact, it was often a job given to a Gentile slave. Even a Jewish slave is too important to wash someone’s feet! But here’s Jesus, down on the floor, going from disciple to disciple washing their feet. If you recall the start of John’s gospel, John the Baptist proclaimed that he wasn’t even worthy to untie the sandals of the one who was coming after him, of Jesus. But here’s Jesus not only untying the disciples’ sandals, but washing their feet, and drying them with a towel. Imagine you’re the disciples. How would you feel? Uncomfortable? Embarrassed? Confused? Indignant?
It appears they’re stunned into silence. They’re shocked. They don’t know what to say. Until Jesus comes to Peter. You can always count on him to have something to say. As Jesus takes off his sandals, as he prepares to wet Peter’s feet, Peter blurts out, ‘Lord, are you, going to wash my feet?’ He knows this isn’t right. You get a sense for how unusual what Jesus is doing is, by the fact that Peter’s not offering to get down and take over. Peter’ not offering to wash Jesus feet. And neither Peter, nor any of the disciples are offering to wash one-another’s feet. If it were a job like washing the dishes and someone picked up a scrubbing brush, everyone else would grab a tea-towel and pitch in. But that’s not what’s happened here. Jesus starts washing the disciples feet and they’re too stunned to do anything. It’s so not proper, so not the done thing, that they don’t know what to do at all. Peter’s just the only one who voices what they’re all thinking.