My favorite Marvel comic book character, ever since I was a little kid watching cartoons on TV, is Spider-Man. So I was overjoyed when the Spider-Man movies, with Tobey Maguire in the lead role, were released starting in 2002. And things got even better when Tom Holland debuted as Spider-Man in 2016 in Captain America: Civil War, and then soloed in Spider-man: Homecoming in 2017 and Spider-man: Far From Home in 2019. And I am looking forward to Spider-man: No Way Home later on this year. But we don’t talk much about the Andrew Garfield years at our house.
Regardless of who is playing Spider-man, the first movie for each actor always has a scene where Spider-man learns how to use his new super powers. He always starts off bumbling and stumbling about, making lots of hilarious mistakes along the way, but eventually he ends up flying through the air with the greatest of ease, a daring young man on his web-spun trapeze.
You and I are like Spider-man. You may remember that the theme that runs throughout the Spider-Man movies is “With great power comes great responsibility.” In the movies, Spider-Man struggles to take on the great responsibility that comes with his new found powers. Does he use his strength, spidey senses and web-slinging powers to build up his own ego, or does he use them to help others? And if he tries to help others, how does he do it in a way that actually helps and doesn’t hurt them? The great responsibility given to Spider-Man needs to be guided by great love, love for his friends, love for his fellow human beings.
Just like Spider-Man, you and I struggle with these two wonderful, but often mis-used, characteristics of life: power and love. All of us have the power to make choices, and the power to help or harm others. And all of us have been given the ability to love. How will we use our power and love? Will we use them for our own benefit, or to help others? And if we seek to help others, how do we do so in a way that actually does help them and doesn’t hurt them?
To help us as we think about that question, let’s look at John 13:1-17 in the Bible. As we look at this passage, it is important for you to know that it takes place on a Thursday evening nearly 2,000 years ago. But this was a Thursday evening unlike any other. This was the night when Jesus would be betrayed by one of his followers into the hands of those who wanted to kill him. Within hours, Jesus would be arrested, beaten, and unjustly convicted of a crime he did not commit. Then he would be flogged, stripped naked and nailed to a cross to suffer and die a horrible death. As John tells us in his account of this special night, Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. (John 13:1) Because this time with his followers was so short and precious, Jesus made sure that what he said and did was really important.
This was also the night when Jesus and his followers would celebrate the Passover Meal, a very special annual occasion of remembering and celebrating that great moment in the past when God reached down into human history and saved his people from slavery and genocide in Egypt and brought them into the land of freedom and abundance which he had promised to give to them. Just before the meal was about to begin, Jesus did something which no one else present that night would have predicted. He was the guest of honor, so everyone else was supposed to serve him. But Jesus revealed that God’s priorities and values are not the same as ours. He took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and began to wash his followers’ feet. This was a dirty, stinky job because people wore sandals all day and walked over dirty, dusty ground. Guests would have had at least a day’s worth of sweat and grime on their feet. In that culture, people ate at banquets by reclining on their left side and extending their feet to the right. Those dirty, stinky feet would end up behind the person beside you and so those feet had to be washed. It was a job reserved for the least important servant in the entire household, and yet here was Jesus, the most important person in the room, and the most important person on earth (see Luke 9:20), doing the task that everyone else had felt was beneath them.
So why would Jesus humble himself, take the position of the lowest servant in a household, and serve those who followed him by doing what needed to be done, even though it was a disgusting and demeaning task? John’s account of this night gives us some clues. First, John tells us that [Jesus] He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end. (John 13:1) In your Bible or Bible app, you might see a note that says “Or ‘he showed them the full extent of his love.’” That note is there because the Greek word that is being translated here is telos and it means “fulfillment or completion”. So we could say that, in the very brief moments that he had with his followers that night, Jesus loved them in such a way that they would be catapulted forward into a new life which results in them experiencing healing, wholeness and the fullness of God’s love.
This is what great love does. It willingly takes the lower place so that others can be lifted up to the fullness and completion that God wants to give to them. Just like on a teeter-totter, lifting others up requires that we bring ourselves down. Jesus, God the Son, modeled that for us, first in coming down from heaven to wrap himself in human flesh to become one of us. Second, by being born into poverty and humility as the son of Mary and Joseph. Third, by doing for us the job that was ours but we could never do, and living a perfect human life. Fourth, by willingly going to the cross and paying the cost, which we should have paid but couldn’t, to set us free from sin, death and condemnation forever.
The great love of Jesus has propelled us into a new life where we have a close, intimate relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In this new life from Jesus, we have complete forgiveness of all our sin, we have free and open communication with the One who created us and all things, and the Spirit of God lives in our hearts to give us strength, courage and direction all the days of our life in this world. And when our life in this world comes to an end, Jesus will take us by the hand and lead us to the resting place which he has prepared for us, where we will wait for the Grand Finale. For one day, Jesus will come back to this world in a visible way and banish all evil, heal all creation, overturn every injustice, and raise us to life with new resurrection bodies that will never grow old, never get sick and never die. Amen.