This is an incredible moment in scripture. Jesus, Lord, and teacher, is fully aware that his final moment to convey his most precious message, “Have love for one another,” is here. Jesus has healed and ministered to many, but those in attendance this evening, the evening before his death, would be his closest companions, family, and friends. What an honor to be present at this table. Here we are tonight, followers of Christ stepping back in time participating in this moment.
We at At. Paul’s are a diverse group, and so too was the group around Jesus that night. I would like to introduce you to those Jesus chose to carry the torch of his ministry.
I’ll begin with Andrew. He, once a fisherman, now devotes his life to giving others over to God. He was the first to find Jesus and dragged his older brother, Simon Peter, to him with the words, “I found the Messiah!” When two Greek strangers requested to see Jesus, Andrew brought them to Him. And it was Andrew who brought the child with the fishes and the loaves to Jesus so the crowd could be fed. Andrew was inquisitive, enthusiastic, and resourceful. He teaches others that they are loved and worthy of an introduction to Jesus. Jesus honors the gifts of Andrew as he washes his feet.
Simon, the Zealot, a fisherman, was a bit of a hothead. He has been described as a relentless fisher of men through the power of the Gospel. He is patriotic, loyal, passionate, and sacrificial. He later shared ministry with the apostle Jude and was known to speak on his behalf. Simon teaches us we are not meant to be self-sufficient or without the support of others. Jesus honors his enthusiasm as he washes his feet.
Batholomew mentioned in Matthew, Mark, and Luke is likely the same person known as Nathaneal in John’s Gospel. We know Nathaneal from his question to Phillip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?.” He is also the one Jesus declared had no deceit in him. He was well-versed in scripture, which Jesus indicates by acknowledging seeing Nathaneal under the fig tree. Nathaneal was honest, skeptical, and faithful. He teaches us to test everything through the scriptures, and we are assured Christ will meet us there. Jesus honors his skepticism as he washes his feet.
James, son of Zebedee, was married with 4 children. He was a temperamental contradiction. He was a solid public speaker though he often had long bouts of silence. James was a well-balanced thinker and planner but, when provoked, had a fiery, vengeful side. As we hear in his request to be at Jesus’s side in His Glory, he was also selfish and conceited. Though slow to grasp the teachings of Jesus, once James understood, he stood firm and courageous when his convictions were challenged. Jesus honors his courage as he washes his feet.
James’ and his younger brother John were called “Sons of Thunder.” John was also a fisherman with a family. He was loving and compassionate but could also be judgemental and selfish as he joined James’ in the request to be beside Jesus in his Glory. John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” was reclined next to Jesus at this meal. And it was John that Peter asked to find out who Jesus meant in his words, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” John wrote the Gospel of John, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John, and Revelation. We learn a great deal from him about the transformational love of God in Christ. Jesus honors his beloved friend as he washes his feet.
There was another James in the mix, and he was known as James the Less. Possibly called the less because he was younger than James, son of Zebedee. He was brother to Matthew, the tax collector, and known for his quiet, reserved personality. Later he will be given the authority to cast out all unclean spirits, raise the dead, and cure disease and sickness. James the Less teaches us that powerful ministry can come quietly. Jesus honors his humility as he washes his feet.
James’ brother Matthew, the tax collector, was once seen as a traitor. Jesus visited Matthew in his home and dined with him and his corrupt friends. After this visit, Matthew gave up his career to follow Jesus. Jesus welcomes sinners and outcasts, and Matthew teaches us, “Happy are those who know their need for God.” Jesus honors Matthew’s need as he washes his feet.
Phillip, well versed in scripture, often took things literally, and this left him confused. It was Phillip who asked Jesus to show them the Father. Jesus replies, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, Show us the Father”? Phillip was practical. When Jesus asked him where to buy bread for the crowd, he responded with “six months wages would not be enough to feed this crowd.” He was also helpful when he informed Jesus that several Greeks were hoping to meet him. Subtlety was lost on Phillip, but we learn that vast knowledge of scripture does not compare to the truth found in Jesus. Jesus honors his seeking as he washes his feet.
Thaddaeus, also known as Jude, was a revolutionary. He was often confused and inquisitive. He was not afraid to ask Jesus how he would reveal himself to his followers and not to the rest of the world. We learn from his question that Jesus will reveal his truths to those who seek him. Jesus honors his curiosity as he washes his feet.
Thomas was inquisitive and also doubtful. He witnesses the miraculous catch of fish and yet will not believe in the resurrection until he sees Jesus himself. Thomas asks Jesus, “How will we know the way when we don’t know where you are going?” Thomas was courageous and faithful as well as literal-minded and desiring of tangible proofs. Jesus honors his courageous expression of doubt as he washes his feet.
Judas was the treasurer for the apostles. He was greedy, deceitful, and treacherous. He criticizes Mary for anointing Jesus with expensive perfume. Judas predestined to betray Jesus has remorse, but his fatal flaw is his inability to receive grace and forgiveness. Though he knows Judas’ heart, Jesus honors his dignity and washes his feet.
Peter, brother to Andrew, was strong-willed, impulsive, fearful, outspoken, and volatile. He was reprimanded by Jesus for his refusal to accept that Jesus would have to die. He attempted to walk toward Jesus on the sea only to be overcome by fear. Jesus knows in advance that Peter will fearfully deny him three times. All this and yet Peter is the “Rock on which Jesus will build his Church.” Peter was prone to error but always came back around. Jesus honors his repentance and washes his feet.
There were others present at that final meal, men and women as witnesses to their Lord’s final teaching on humility and service.
These were the called and the chosen, not because of who they were and what they had done but because of who Jesus was, teacher, teaching the teachable.
Are we teachable?
Can we learn to see the good in ourselves and in others?
Can we relinquish our agendas and join Christ in his mission?
Jesus knew very well how much he was asking of the apostles. He knew how much they would struggle with their differences in character. And he knew they would need to care for each other in his absence.
Can we serve with the heart of Jesus, holding each other up even when challenged by personality differences?
Can we let go of our expectations and encourage others?
Can we promote the unity our Lord prays for?
When we let this moment with our teacher, as servant-Lord sink in deeply, I know we can.