Reflections on Luke 22:24-30
And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest.
It made no sense whatsoever.
Sometime after supper – were they still in the upper room? Had Judas already left? Was Jesus in earshot? It started again. They argued over which of them was the greatest – who did Jesus favor more -- who’d sit at His side in His kingdom?
It always dogged them.
After the Transfiguration, they got caught. As they neared Capernaum, it was the same conversation. Like always, they made sure Jesus couldn’t hear. But this time, somehow, He knew what they were talking about and confronted them.
“You want to be first? Be last. Be servant of all.” 1
Eventually, James and John got up the courage to ask Him directly, “Grant us to sit, one at Your right hand and one at Your left, in Your glory.” It angered the others. It provoked Jesus to repeat the story: “The greatest serve.” Adding, “I am not here to be served but to serve and to give My life as a ransom for many.” 2
They didn’t get it.
Even now, after washing their feet, they didn’t get it.
In a few hours, the powers of darkness would descend on Him. The crown of thorns would be forced on His head and the nails of Calvary would pierce into His hands and feet. From heaven, the Father would lay on Him “the iniquity of us all.” And down He’d go into suffering and death – the perfect Lamb, the perfect offering “to take away the sin of the world.” Down – and down – and down. 3
If only they understood.
But they don’t. They’re arguing again – on this night of all nights. It’s still all they can talk about. Up – and up -- and up, which of them is greatest? Who will be recognized more than others? Whose will have power and fame and glory?
Their hearts are cold.
But not for long. He’d promised Peter, when He washed his feet, “You don’t get it now. But you will, later.” He’d have to do His work first. And on the third day, rise again, go to His disciples, and breathe His resurrected life into their bodies. That’s what they needed – new, born-again life. Their souls filled by the Holy Spirit. Only then would they understand the secret of the kingdom of God.
He has called us to serve. Always serve. Just as He served.
And that’s exactly what happened. On Easter night, our Lord breathed on His disciples saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” And with it came the charge: “as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 4
These Christians! They’re different. They have a new heart. Not like the old one. They race to serve. They long for the lowest place – which is the highest place. All because He who is the highest took the lowest and made the lowest the highest. That’s why they serve. Always serve. Just as He served.
Their hearts – cold no more.
* * *
As the years passed, John and I grew more distant. Not because anything happened between us. Life got busy – that’s all.
Bishop John became more prominent in Rwanda, serving on committees locally, nationally, and travelling to all parts of the world to help his country recover. And, for me, I had more responsibility that I could handle.
We’d correspond. We’d call each other on the phone.
When we’d finally meet, it was usually to attend a meeting.
A movement had begun in our denomination to strengthen the bonds between the African and American church. We, on our part, needed the strength of their preaching and faith which was tested by war, poverty, and persecution. They, on their part, wanted us to build relationships with their pastors, churches, schools, orphans, widows, and seminaries.
Neither of us led the movement. But we were an integral part of it, coming alongside great church leaders who gave themselves to this work. For over a decade, we saw the Lord’s favor. What John and I had together – an African and an American bound together in Jesus Christ -- was now being shared by many in both our countries. It thrilled us beyond words.
But it didn’t last.
Some of the principle leaders in the movement began to disagree with each other over matters of vision and strategy. Soon enough, it intensified. It became personal. People got hurt. Longtime relationships in Christ – among well-loved Christian leaders – strained and broke. A movement born for the glory of God was soon plagued by division and heartache.
John, and some of his African colleagues, did their best to bring the message of biblical forgiveness and reconciliation – the same message that was bringing life to a post-genocide Rwanda. At the same time, many of us in the U. S. did our part to beg for the same thing. We tried to mediate. We tried to stop it.
But it didn’t work.
As always, division is shrouded in complexities. There are sides to each story. Both need to be heard. It’s how we assess who is right, who is wrong, so we can decide which side we’ll take. But, in truth, it’s not complicated at all.
We chose not to love each other.
Deep in my soul, I prized this foot washing story. If we are Christians, if the resurrected life of Jesus Christ fills our mortal bodies, He commands us to do as He did to us. We strip our garments, we robe as servants, we grab a basin and towel, get down on our knees and wash – and wash – and wash.
Until we love again.
We’re not allowed to divide. Not in Christ. Not as Christians.
But we did. And soon enough, the coldness came to me. I, too, was on “one side” of the argument. And though I tried to speak well of those on “the other side”, it hurt too much. People I love were hurt. People I love did the hurting. And though in principle I tried to do what was right, I couldn’t stop it.
The rush of coldness filling my heart.
It was, in many ways, imperceptible. I was very busy as a clergyman. I could do my job, and do it well, all the while pretending this story never happened. I could easily make believe I had no part in the division whatsoever and pretend I was fully, completely unaffected by it all. Coldness is like that.
But I couldn’t sustain it.
I had too many friends like Bishop John. He’d call, we’d talk for an hour, and at the end of the call, he’d always remind me not to let unforgiveness grab my heart and shape my life in Christ. “It’s a choice, you know?” he’d warn.
“I know,” I’d say, and promise I’d choose it every day.
But, in truth, I didn’t know what that meant. Not really.
Not until my wife was diagnosed with a peculiar rheumatoid, auto-immune condition which resulted in open, non-healing wounds on her lower right leg. Near the ankles. With no known treatment for cure.
And so, we began. Every evening before dinner.
We have a basket. It is filled with everything we need to change her dressing. One of us, depending on the night, gets it ready. And then, it’s my turn. I get to go down on my knees, go to her feet, and begin the process.
I start by taking scissors and cutting off the old bandage. I then wash her foot and the two wounds with saline – drying it all with gauze. I apply the medicine the doctor gave us to care for the skin and prevent infection. And then I cover the wounds with a lubricated pad, followed by gauze, and then a bandage roll wrapping around her foot and held on by silk tape.
We get to do this every night.
Not for a month. Or a year. But, at this writing, it’s been nearly seven years.
For me, it has taught me the secret of the kingdom of God. It is the greatest weapon in the arsenal of spiritual warfare. And it’s real, physical, practical. As real as a basin of water, a towel girded around the waist, and the choice – always the choice – to go down to the feet of our brothers and sisters in Christ and wash them every day. No matter what “side” they have taken.
We are to love one another. As Jesus loved us.
And I’m learning it, slowly. For I want that power of Christ’s resurrected, Easter life to fill me again, and not just me, but all who love the Lord.
So our hearts are cold no more.
1 Mark 9:33-37
2 Mark 10:35-45
3 Isaiah 53:6; John 1:29
4 John 20:21-23
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