One Emotional Time 

By Ray Barrow  

He was running out of time, and he knew it. But his friends did not. He would be dead within a week. In the Christian Church, it is called “Holy Week.” He had intimated that their ideas of a Messiah were wrong. He knew that they had not gotten it. They were into overthrowing Rome, and “being back on top.” This would be their last extended visit together. What could he possibly say to these fellows who at times were not “the sharpest knives in the drawer?” It would turn out to be the week that changed the course of history. The story is related in all four of the gospels, but only John focused our attention on that “Farewell Address.” He recorded it all in chapters 13-17.  

In 1977, the head basketball coach of Marquette University was interviewed by Bob Costas of NBC. Al had just won the NCAA Championship. He was not known for his strategies of X’s and O’s. He left that to his assistants. He was more of a colorful recruiter and motivator. He was asked what he said to his players in a final timeout, in a tied game, with control of the ball. The coach simply said that the only thing that really mattered was the last words they hear. For Jesus, this was such a moment.  

I have been thinking much about that week lately. I feel as though we in America are living on the edge in a time of darkness. I have lived over eighty years and am a history major. I have never seen my country in such a fragile state. I also feel strongly that large portions of the Church have sold out by not living the Gospel message of inclusion, grace, and forgiveness. We possess, possibly the only people who do, a message of healing, both individually and as a community. Jesus’s actions and words that week have become extremely important to me.  

This week must have made a lasting impression, and I would like to suggest some observations. It begins with humility. Jesus sets the tone for the entire week that includes his death by washing their filthy, smelly feet (John 13). This was slave work. When none were present, why did the disciples not think to wash each other’s? Was it “below” them? Jesus says nothing. He just becomes a “slave” and ministers. Paul the apostle will later explain the real meaning of Jesus’s condescension in a letter to his favorite church at Philippi (Phil. 2:1-11). Did his friends understand the meaning of this humble act? What was he trying to say? If you were to have asked them later in their lives, they would probably say they never forgot that moment. I believe that God is trying to tell his Church that we need to approach our lost world with a towel and basin rather than with a sword in our trying to convert people. Jesus will make the ultimate demonstration of that attitude just a few days later. Paul uses it as an example of the proper mindset, particularly with regard to those “difficult” people we all have in our lives.  

The act of washing the disciple’s feet was also an incredible act of welcome and hospitality. Plus, it preceded a shared meal, which is all about hospitality because meals in the time of Jesus were extremely important. Where is this true hospitality reflected in the Church today? At the least it has to go beyond the frowning “good mornings” (if you get that!) and could extend to really meaning the question “How are you?” Imagine what would happen on Sunday morning if we truly meant the question. We certainly would not make a lunch reservation. Henri Nowen has suggested that the act of hospitality includes opening yourself up to ‘allowing people to have spaces to grow.” Perhaps we need to be more inclusive rather than exclusive at this time of divisiveness.  

And after these acts of humility and hospitality, Jesus spends most of the time talking about what it means to be a real disciple. Why not? This is the last talk before his death. He will see them again, of course, but they do not realize that. He spends the whole time talking about relationships. It is just continuing a theme that actually started in Genesis. Is that not what really matters with most of us, our relationships? Jesus shares his relationship with his Father, their relationships with each other, the “new” relationship with the Holy Spirit. These few days were pretty powerful.  

I find it interesting what Jesus does not talk about: justification, theories of atonement, the last days, and much more. Just the basics! Maybe that is where we must begin, with the lessons of humility, hospitality, and loving each other. That is what Jesus said was the way the world will know we belong to God. This is certainly a better way in today’s fractured and polarizing world. Actions do speak louder than words. Just look at what Jesus did that one last week.