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  • Writer's pictureFr. Gustavo

“Jesus, the Lord who refused to act like one”

Jesus Washing the Feet of His Disciples
Jesus Washing the Feet of His Disciples by A. Edelfelt, 1898

It almost seems that it was last Sunday, but about a year ago we started the new liturgical year. Since then, every week I have tried to make relevant to you “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” The birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, the One who Is, and Was, and is to come again.

During the last couple of Sundays, the gospel focused about what it truly is temporal and what will be of lasting value. However, I hope that throughout the last fifty two weeks you may have gain further insights in understanding God’s love and mercy.

All along the year, together, as a people of God, we have shared in sorrows and joys, we have said farewell to people and welcomed new friends, we have prayed together, we have loved and learned from one another, and hopefully we have found God in our midst.

And, through it all, perhaps without realizing it, we have been in the presence of Christ, the King and Lord who still refuses to act like one.

Addressing his disciples while they had the Last Supper, Jesus told them, “In this world the kings and rulers have power over their people, and often they remorselessly bully them, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves,” (Luke 22:25-26).

And then, as the gospel tells us, Jesus took a towel and washed his disciples' feet…

So, to really understand what Jesus had in mind for his kingdom we must move away from the different models of civil government. In fact, and this should be perhaps the theme for a Fourth of July sermon, it should be the other way around – Civil government should take hints from the model of government that Jesus suggested.

But going back to the Kingdom of Christ, following Jesus’ ideas, if there is anything that it is farthest from our Lord’s mind is the idea of establishing an earthly “Christian Empire” where clerics rule with an iron rod and send troops to eliminate the infidels – all in the name of the Love of Jesus

Such model failed with Constantine, the Byzantine Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, with the Geneva of Calvin, with New England’s Puritans, and in our own Virginia Colony. The Crusades left such deep wounds that we still suffer the consequences of “Christian Imperialism.”

If both history and the Bible teaches something, it is that such model of a new “Christian Nation,” will fail again, even though the idea is becoming popular these days. It is telling that Christ’s temptation was just that – to proclaim his Kingship and rule the nations of the world.

For Christ’s Kingdom is not a kingdom where the Bible is rammed down the throats of people, of people being forced to obey a kind of “Christian Shariah Law,” where kids are beaten if they don’t memorize Bible verses, or where people are thrown into jail if they skip church.

What Jesus had in mind – and continues to uphold – is not a kingdom of dominion but of service, not of bullying and forcing people to follow his law of love, but a kingdom of peace, mercy, welcoming and heart-warming fellowship for, as St Paul writes, “The Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,” (Romans 14:17).

David M. Guion, a freelance writer and editor, and a Methodist Lay Preacher, posted an article in his blog asking his readers to consider Jesus attitude to earthly power. Jesus, the author wrote, “Is the only man who ever walked the earth who is also God. If anyone has ever deserved to be treated like a king—to have his every whim carried out by someone else—it would have been Jesus.

“According to Philippians 2:6, Jesus was equal to God but did not consider equality with God something to be grasped (…) Jesus, as a human, chose not to use his equality with God as a tool. Jesus exercised his lordship by acting like a servant.”

(I should add that I shamelessly pinched David Guion’s headline for my own sermon’s title!)

That went against the grain of any notion of government. Even David and Solomon – the Hebrew’s role models for rulers didn’t act the way Jesus professed. Thus, many of Jesus’s hearers were not only unconvinced but even upset. Peter, his closest friend, and disciple was offended by the idea of Jesus washing his feet.

It is no wonder that soldiers and nay-sayers mocked Jesus during his trial and at the Cross – “They said, ‘He saved others, but he can't save himself. If he is the Messiah, the king of Israel, let him come down from the cross! Then we will see and believe.’” (Mark 15:31-32). And even one of the thieves, right at the gates of death would not accept the possibilities that the Crucified Lord offered.

People still continue mocking Jesus. Some openly. Others analyzing and dissecting Jesus, separating from the gospel the things they like from those that are most inconvenient to themselves. Still, some others, in the name of Jesus use their power for self-promotion, to pad their wallets, and to build their private empires.

And yet, others still mock Jesus promoting the idea of a new Christian Nation, all in the name of the Lord they pretend to obey, an America that even our Founding Fathers soundly rejected. If Jesus refused to be made king on Palm Sunday, why would He be interested in being the next American King?

“My kingdom is not of this world,” said Jesus. And, let me be clear, as far as we know, Jesus hasn’t changed his mind.

As we wrap up this Christian year, looking ahead to Thanksgiving, let us encourage each other with this thought – Jesus, the King of kings, and Lord of lords delights himself in calling us “friends.”

A true Friend who laid His life for ours, so that we may be close to his loving heart. A God-Servant that rather than sending bolts from heaven sends His Spirit to lift us up whenever we fail.

A true Savior who offers himself to us not only to embrace us, but to let us embrace in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. A Lord who only embraces the power of love.

And, again, as we prepare ourselves for the return of our Lord and Savior – which is the big theme of Advent – let us commit ourselves to faithfully serve those who are most in need in the name of Jesus, who gave us His all, so that we may have life, and life everlasting. Amen.

Fr. Gustavo.

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