Holy Thursday 2012
“You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 This I command you, to love one another.” John 15.14-17
Mediterranean cultures have stricter rules than we do about how to behave socially. You can see this in the Middle Eastern world today. This was true in Jesus' time, even more so than today. Jews could not eat a meal with Gentiles. Women and men ate separately.
While there were these strict divisions, once you were in, you were in. To invite someone to eat with you made them like one of the family. So these kinds of gestures were taken very seriously and meant very much.
This is also true about what Jesus does tonight in our Gospel lesson: washing the feet of his disciples. Gestures were taken much more seriously than they are today. As a rule we don't preform lots of serious social gestures. Shaking hands or kissing someone on the cheek are expressions we commonly make and these gestures do have a lot of meaning. But we just don't have as many as people did in Jesus' time. We salute the flag and throw the first pitch at baseball games but, if you think about it, there are not too many examples like this.
Jesus' action in washing the feet of his disciples was deeply profound. The hands and the feet were sources of action for the Jewish people. Anything that had to do with them was really important. So when guests arrived, a servant usually washed their feet as a way of welcoming them into a home. This was good thing too since there wasn't any central plumbing and camels and donkeys walked among the people, so anyone who came in from the street could have been walking through just about anything.
So Jesus' action was a cleansing one. The debris of a hard life was washed away. Cleansing was also a form of forgiveness. The forgiveness and cleansing that would come from God as a result of the passion Jesus was about to undergo was symbolized in the way Jesus washed the feet of this disciples. What a profound way he chose to show how deeply he loved his disciples and to show how this love would be extended beyond measure in the next day of his life.
Jesus is also very explicit about this in the later verses that I quoted from John. He says to those with him, “You are not my servants, you know. You are my friends.” And while we are truly servants of Jesus, he says the same thing to us, “______, you are my friend.” So not only do we eat with him, with God, as family and so become members of God's family, we walk down the road with his arm around our shoulder. “You are my friend,” he says to us.
How did we attain to so high a place? He says it is because “I have told you everything. Everything the Father said to me, I have said to you. You are in the inner circle. You are in on the family secrets. You know all there is to know. And so, you are my friend.
As a matter of fact, you think that you came to me. No, I was the one who came to you. I chose you. You did not choose me. And the reason I chose you is that you are going to bear fruit. You are going to bear fruit because you know it all, you have it all, and I love you. And the fruit that you bear is going to last. It will last forever.
So since all this is true, I want you to treat one another well. I want you to love each other. You all should be friends just like we are friends.”