Family Dinners: A Maundy Thursday Reflection

Luke 22:24-27 – “A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 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. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”

I love family dinners. I love any opportunity to gather around a shared meal and share life with the people closest in my world. I think most families host their share of friendly banter, but I know some folks dread even the thought of sharing space with family because of past hurts, slights, fights, and harbored bitterness. When Luke tells the story of Jesus’ last meal with his disciples – his family – he includes this dispute about who’s better than who. Maybe to our ears this seems like inappropriate dinner conversation, but if there’s anything we know about the stories of the Bible, it’s that they are about real people who live in messy reality just like we do. Jesus, like he so often does, flips the script and reminds his disciples that they are to be living a different story. He reminds them, “I am among you as one who serves.”

In John’s gospel, it’s at this same last meal with the disciples that Jesus embodies this sentiment, “I am among you as one who serves,” by washing his disciple’s feet. Yes, the role-reversal here is significant – “the one who rules is like the one who serves.” But the way in which Jesus demonstrates what it looks like to serve is also significant. I don’t have to tell you that for most of us, having someone touch our feet or touching someone else’s feet is uncomfortable. “Are my toe-nails cut? Did I shave my legs? Does this person have some weird foot fungus?” Washing someone’s feet or having your feet washed is intimate. It puts both the washer and the washee in a vulnerable position – It takes a great deal of trust and willingness to let go in order to receive and give this gift of service. In foot washing, the playing field is leveled, and we intimately understand that we’re all in this together.

When God breaks into creation in the person of Jesus, we see God enter the story of humanity in the most intimate way imaginable. God enters the world as a baby, and the incarnation shows us that God becomes vulnerable. To share life with another is to open oneself up to all of the hurt, pain, joy, and love that intimacy requires – when Jesus enters the human story, he becomes like us so that we can become like God. Jesus, at this last family dinner, embodies what it means to love one another. Love is an embodied, physical reality – a reality that might make us uncomfortable, and one which will surely make us vulnerable. It is a reality in which we are both giver and receiver – may we open our hands to receive the gift and to pour it out for the sake of others.

“Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

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