One of the great joys of our lives these days is dinner with friends. We had dinner with some long time close friends last Saturday night. We hadn't seen them for four years, which we decided can't happen again. We also had dinner with close friends last Monday night, and we'll have dinner with them again this coming Tuesday. We've been invited to spend Easter with some wonderful friends as well. We also have dinner planned with friends a week from Saturday. I guess we must be popular.
But that's not the reason. These are all inner circle gatherings. We consider all of these people to be among our closest friends. It's a wonderful blessing, and these incredible folks are only part of the group that we consider our inner circle. I'm the richest man in town.
Jesus was not so blessed. It seems very strange to say that I'm more blessed than Jesus in any respect. But I believe I am, when it comes to my friends. You're not deserting me in my time of need, the way Jesus' friends did. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Today is Thursday of Holy Week, known in the church as Maundy Thursday. This is the night that Jesus had his last dinner with friends before his arrest. That's what he wanted to do before his trials started. Of course, it was the Passover Meal, which gave it added meaning. And Jesus gave it a completely new meaning.
But Jesus did say that he eagerly desired to have this meal with his disciples before he suffered. He actually told them that. (Luke 22:15) Yes, this meal was about ending one era and ushering in a new one, and replacing an old covenant with a new and better one, but I really believe that, knowing what was to come, what Jesus wanted more than anything else right then was to share one last meal with his closest friends. I can relate to that very easily.
But all was not well in Jesus' inner circle. The plot to betray him was already underway.
You can read my Bible Blog posts on the Last Supper in Mark here, Matthew here, and Luke here. There is some duplication between the posts, but there's also information in each that's different from the others. Each gospel account of this event adds details that others leave out. I haven't blogged on John's account of the Last Supper yet. He records four chapters of teaching at the Last Supper! How'd you like to sit through that after a big meal and few glasses of wine?
In my study of the Bible, I prize the gospels over all the rest. I'd love to do a whole paragraph on that here, but I'll pass. For me, it's all about Jesus. What he did, and what he taught. One of the things I love to do most is compare and contrast the different accounts of events in Jesus' life. I think we get a clearer picture of what really happened that way.
A lot more happened this night than this dinner. After this, Jesus suffered in the Garden, was arrested, beaten, and put on trial, all on Thursday night. He also had to tell one of his best friends that that friend would deny him three times that night. But I'm not going to write a long Bible lesson today. If you want that, my Bible Blog is a great choice. Tomorrow's post will be pretty grim, but today, I want to focus on dinner with friends.
Meals were very intimate affairs in that culture, and it remains that way in Middle Eastern culture to this day. They didn't sit in chairs around a table like we do. Whenever I see the traditional painting above by Leonardo Davinci, I always think of the old joke: "Okay, everybody get on the same side of the table for a picture!"
They didn't sit, they reclined, leaning on the person to their left, and eating with their right hand. Sharing a meal was what families did, what compatriots did. When you ate with someone, you were saying, "These are my people." That's what I'm also saying with each of the dinners we have planned. These are my people.
That's why some got so upset when Jesus ate with "sinners." In that society, you identified yourself by who you ate with. It's also why Judas' betrayal was considered such outrageous treachery by the rest of the disciples. In the view of most in that culture, betraying a friend after breaking bread with them was one of the worst things you could do.
This was a society that prized status above all else. It wasn’t just about pride. It was also about knowing your place and role. When reclining around a table for a meal, a person’s status determined their place at the table. If you didn’t know where you ranked in the group, you wouldn’t know where to sit, or recline.
I think this is why the gospels talk so often about the disciples constantly arguing over who among them was "the greatest." No, Mohammed Ali wasn't there. What the disciples were arguing over was which of them had the highest status among them. This should have been resolved the first time they ate together, because Jesus, according to tradition, should have had them sit according to their status.
But I don't think Jesus did it that way. He was always trying to get them to forget about status, and instead accept the lowest place, that of the slave of all. But they didn't get it, so he showed them.
One of the duties of a slave was washing feet. The roads were dirt, and people wore sandals, so it was customary to have your feet washed when you entered a house. But apparently, there were no servants in the upper room where they ate, and none of the disciples wanted to accept the lowest place. When you washed someone's feet, you were saying that you had less status than the person you did it for.
So as they reclined around the table, Jesus got up, wrapped a towel around his waist, and began washing his disciples' feet. He was their Lord and Master, performing the duty of a slave. He showed them what real love is.
But then, he dropped a bombshell. One of them was going to betray him. Not only that, but before the night was over, they would all desert him, and Peter would deny him three times. Talk about a buzzkill!
Thankfully, I've never had to say that to any of my friends. As I said earlier, I know you won't desert me in my hour of need. In fact, you've done just the opposite.
Out of his inner circle, Jesus ultimately only lost one, Judas. All the rest, including Peter, were reunited with Jesus after his resurrection. I too have lost a friend or two who basically ran off when my world changed. But I've gained many more. And the close friendships I already had are stronger and more vibrant than they've ever been before. Of all the emotions that have swirled inside me since this started, the most predominant emotion has been gratitude. I'm grateful to God for waking me up, and I'm grateful to you for being there for us. None of you care about your status. All you want to do is love us and help us. And you wonder why I think I'm so blessed?
I can't wait for dinner with friends. But I won't wash your feet.