Relationship meltdowns are nothing new. They happen between nations, within nations, and among family and friends. Battles rage and some families may feel like the starting point for WWIII. Is there any hope for peace, harmony, and healing?
It is no surprise that war and strife are normal. Life is often seen as a competitive struggle, a fight for space, land, resources, or just a voice. People push themselves ahead of others, or force their agendas on them. In the rat race of life, the first person to the finish line wins. I forget who first pointed it out, but unfortunately the winners also end up looking quite like rats.
As followers of Christ, we are supposed to be like sheep following the Good Shepherd. In life we might rather feel like we are sheep on a hamster wheel in a rat race.
Is there a better way?
There is a better way and Jesus models it for us in John, chapter 13. Here we find the twelve disciples in the upper room, not long before the first Lord’s Supper, not many hours before the arrest of Jesus, and just one day before the crucifixion of Jesus.
Looking around the upper room, Jesus knows that all the disciples will scatter and abandon him at the first hint of trouble. Jesus knows Peter will deny him. Jesus knows that Judas will betray him. I think many of us, in the same situation, would have launched into a war of words, or we would have ditched the disciples and went looking for better friends. But not Jesus:
Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end.John 13:1 (NLT)
Jesus, knowing how the disciples were about to fail him spectacularly, neither rejected them, nor fought them. Instead,
. . . he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.John 13:4-5 (NLT)
Jesus loved them spectacularly.
Jesus walked the better path of love by serving. Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. Jesus was different, not at all like a rat trying to win the race, but instead taking the role of a servant, helping the disciples to walk a new path as truly human humans.
Jesus walked the path of love by taking the time, and putting in the effort. This was not just an act of service, but an act of service that required time and effort. In the upper room, the pace of life was allowed to grind to a halt. Taking time to serve the disciples meant taking a break from everything else that might seem important. There were so many people who still needed to hear Jesus’ teaching, so many people who still needed his healing touch, and so little time left. Yet here is Jesus, spending his time and effort, pouring out his love for the very ones he knew would abandon him, deny him, and betray him. I think I’d be saying “wash your own feet.” Jesus modelled the better way.
Jesus walked the path of love by serving people who did not earn his time or effort. Even after spending three years with Jesus, the disciples were caught up in a competitive spirit. Not long before this moment they were jostling for position, questioning who was the greatest among them. Had they not learned anything? Their feet were dirty from joining in the rat race. Yet here is Jesus washing the feet of those who would abandon him, deny him, and betray him. Jesus did not demand perfection from the disciples before washing their feet. He demanded love for them, from himself.
Jesus walked the path of love by choosing the path of the cross. Jesus had earlier said,
For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.Matthew 20:28 (NLT)
Not long after washing the feet of the disciples he said:
This is my body, which is given for you. . .1 Corinthians 11:24-25 (NLT)
“Given for you,” which at that moment meant the disciples who would abandon him, Peter who would deny him, and Judas who would betray him. Walking the path of love, the path of the cross which brought potential healing and life. That is the better way.
When we take the Lord’s Supper we are reminded that Jesus walks that better way of love with us as well. Despite our failings, as with the disciples, God shows his love for us to the very end.
When we take the Lord’s Supper we are also reminded that Jesus calls us to walk that same path of love. Are we picking up our cross and following? Are we walking in the ways that bring healing and life?
After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.John 13:12-15 (NLT)
We do as Jesus did; we walk the path of love by serving others. We walk the path of love by taking the time, making the time, putting in the effort. We walk the path of love serving people who have not earned our love. We love by picking up our cross and serving others through offering forgiveness and reconciliation. That is the better way.
It is significant that the early Christians referred to the Christian movement as “The Way.” By this they were not referring to ‘the way to get to heaven’. Rather they were referring to the better way of life, the way of love which shows that we walk with the One from heaven. It is the way of participating in the answer to the prayer “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 5:10).
Jesus loved the disciples to the end. What is it referring to? It refers to Jesus loving the disciples by washing their feet, and loving them by dying on the cross for their reconciliation. But it also refers to how he loved them by teaching them. Jesus loved them by showing them the better way, the way of not turning his back on those who will turn their backs on him, the way of not returning violence for violence at the cross:
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”Luke 23:34 (NLT)
John experienced the love of Jesus. John experienced the love of God. He was there, his feet were washed. Then he was not there, he fled with the others. Then he was there at the cross, too late to do anything about it. There he experienced love, God’s love. He learned a better way. He wrote about it:
But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.1 John 4:8 (NLT)
People in our day may not be aware for their need for Jesus, for God. But many people are quite aware that there must be a better way. Many people are well aware that we need more love in this world. They may not be aware that Jesus showed us that better way of love two thousand years ago. They may not be aware that Jesus is willing to walk that better way of love with them, right now.
Are we ready to get off the hamster wheel and out of the rat race? There is a better way. It is walking with Jesus in the way of love.