Humility to Receive and to Give

(Based on John 13:1-17)

John begins our second reading for today in this way:

“It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” (John 13:1)

Time was running out for Jesus. This was the moment chosen before eternity began for Jesus to love his own. And he chose to show his true love by stripping down to a loin cloth and washing the dirty, sweaty feed of his followers. This was a task reserved for the lowest household slave and yet here is King Jesus doing this menial service.

The High King of Heaven had humbled himself and served. And in doing so, he showed us what true love looks like.

But Jesus was doing more than just modeling humility and service. Jesus was foreshadowing the greater act of humble service that he would soon perform as he gave himself to suffer and die on a cross as an act of love for the whole world. And Jesus is showing us that humility is necessary both to give and to receive.

It takes humility to love like Jesus loves. You cannot be full of yourself if you are going to wash dirty feet or die on a cross. And so, because Jesus emptied himself of all of the power, glory and riches of heaven to serve and save us, we empty ourselves of our pride and self-centredness so that we can serve others.

But it also takes humility to receive an infinitely gracious love that we know we don’t deserve. It was pride and perhaps some shame that led Peter to dictate to Jesus that he would never, ever wash his feet. After all, it was Peter’s job to wash those dirty feet and he didn’t do it. Now his Lord was doing what he neglected to do. When Jesus responded that he needed to wash Peter’s feet for Peter to have a relationship with Jesus, Peter still tried to tell Jesus how to do things by insisting that Jesus wash his entire body.

You and I are like Peter in so many ways. God’s light exposes our sin and we recoil in shame. God reveals our helpless state and we still want to control the situation. But it is God who is in control, not us. And it takes humility on our part to simply receive the humble service that Jesus wants to give to us. It takes humility to admit that “Yes, we do sin and are in need of forgiveness.” But it also takes humility to admit that there is nothing for us to add to God’s grace. It is all complete in Jesus.

We really are completely and totally forgiven by Jesus of every sin we ever have or ever will commit. We really are unconditionally accepted and infinitely loved by our heavenly Father just as we are, and it is all because of Jesus. We really will be totally and completely healed, body and soul together in the new heaven and earth to come when Jesus returns to make us and all things right. It takes humility to lay down all of our anxious striving and simply receive what Jesus gives us.

And as we do that, we are freed to let go of ourselves, because Jesus is holding onto us, and love others with humble service. It is all because of Jesus who, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. Amen.

(Shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church on March 20, 2016.)

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