Jared Witt | April 1, 2021
If you spend enough time with Jesus, there may come a time where someone looks at you a bit puzzled and says, “What kind of Christian are you, exactly?”
They’re puzzled, because you seem to show no interest in belonging to an exclusive religious club; you’re intellectually nimble and open-minded rather than calcified and dogmatic; you don’t just mindlessly discriminate against certain groups of people because the people who wrote your holy book 2,000 years ago discriminated against them; you’re less concerned with convincing them to be a Christian than you are with showing them that you are one.
In short, you associate a whole bunch of behaviors and characteristics with Jesus, which they don’t associate with Christians. And now they’re confused.
For all of these reasons, a day may come, when someone scratches their head in befuddlement and asks you, “what kind of Christian are you?”
And when that day comes, as you fumble around for an answer to that question, you could do a lot worse than saying “I am a Maundy Thursday Christian.”
You see, Maundy comes from mandatum, mandatum means commandment, so this is the day on which we recall Jesus’ great and final commandment. Jesus says, “By this,” if you follow this one single commandment, “everyone will know that you are my disciples.”
And “By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you memorize the Bible” is NOT what he said; “By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you uphold the values of the free market and whatever Americans mean when they shout the word ‘freedom’” is NOT what he said; “By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you insist that Mary never had sex her whole life long, because bodies are icky” is not what he said.
No. “By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Sometimes people wonder why Jesus would restrict the love to this “one another.” Why tell this small circle of people, his disciples, to have love for one another? Why stop there? Shouldn’t we be loving everyone beyond our circle as well? Well let’s put that one to bed right here: there are only like a thousand other verses that deal with expansive love. Limitless love. Loving not just the people closest to you but the people furthest from you.
But here the emphasis is different. And I think there is a reason for that. For one, Jesus is genuinely concerned for the well-being of his friends. He’s not just preaching a sermon about love in the abstract. He’s saying to his most intimate friends in an extremely distressing circumstance, “It’s about to get pretty rough here for a while. Promise me that you’ll take care of each other.” You know, rein Peter in a little bit when you need to, he can be a bit of a firebrand. Gently bring James and John down a peg or two when they start getting too big for their britches. Affirm and support Thomas when we starts getting sulky. You know how he is.
But then, I think there is second reason, why he is so concerned that they love each other within this specific group of people. So often our most noble and expansive version of love, our altruistic love directed at all of humanity becomes love in the abstract. Which is to say, it becomes nothing.
Sometimes, when we say “I love everyone,” the functional result is “I love no one.”
It’s not your fault. Perhaps you’d like to love everyone. Perhaps you even try to love everyone. But you can’t. Love is a practical exchange. Love has a sender and a recipient. You can’t love everyone. You can only love someone.
We see the popup add for compassion international and it stokes our anger. Nothing comes of it. We watch Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and start to tear up but then fail to reach out the neighbor whom we know is struggling. We congratulate ourselves for seeing a homeless person and thinking pitying thoughts about him. “Seeing that guy really rocked me. Look at my compassion.”
And I believe this is why, knowing all of their shortcomings, idiosyncrasies and imperfections, and most of all, knowing that they are human, Jesus’ final instruction before he goes is to love each other right here in this room. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples.
And of course being Jesus, he doesn’t just say it. He does it. He washes their feet. You’re totally missing it, if you think this was somehow less weirdly intimate for them than it is to us. Undoubtedly, Jesus’ answer to any objections about this practice could be summed up as “Yeah, exactly.”
“But washing feet is weirdly intimate.”
“But but, it feels kind of dirty and embarrassing to kneel down and wash someone’s feet.”
“But, but, we should be washing the feet of the poor and the disadvantaged.”
“Yeah. But you didn’t, did you? So instead, you’re going to practice on each other. And by this, everyone will know you are my disciples.”
Cheers and peace,
A blog that is too churchy for your drinking buddies and too drinky for your churching buddies.