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He Loved Them to the End

Updated: May 3

St. Philip Lutheran Church

14 April 2022 + Maundy Thursday

John 13.1-17, 31b-35

Rev. Josh Evans


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“Jesus went out with his disciples to a place where there was a garden… Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place… So he brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons… and they arrested Jesus and bound him.”


Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.


“Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus… A woman said to Peter, ‘You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?’ He said, ‘I am not.’”


Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to end.


***


It’s passages like this that easily make John’s gospel my favorite of the four gospels we have in our bible.


On the other hand, it’s the parenthetical asides, many of which are leveled at Judas, that make me cringe.


Like two Sundays ago, when Judas objects to Mary’s act of extravagance: “[Judas] said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief…”


Or in tonight’s story: “The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas … to betray [Jesus]...”


We get it, John. You don’t like Judas.


And yet, in spite of those cringey parenthetical asides, or maybe even because of them, Jesus’s enduring love for his disciples, his friends, is made all the more profound.


Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.


Jesus knew who was to betray him. Jesus knew who was to deny him. And in spite of all this, still he loves them to the end.


We get a very specific, tangible example of what that kind of love looks like in the verses that follow … as Jesus gets up from the table, takes off his outer robe, ties a towel around himself, pours water into a basin, and begins to wash his disciples’ feet.


To be sure, footwashing was a common practice of hospitality in the first-century world, but it was also dirty work … work that would have been relegated to a slave or something that a host’s guests would have had to do for themselves. But here, Jesus flips the practice on its head. The master becomes the servant, the teacher taking the form of a slave, emptying himself before those whom his social world would have deemed lesser or inferior.


***


The late theologian Jean Vanier, best known for his work of founding communities of care for adults with intellectual disabilities, knows something of what it means to serve those whom our culture has deemed inferior.


In one of his first encounters with persons living with disabilities, Vanier recounts being struck by their cry for relationship and to be loved and seen as human beings. He also talks about meeting one woman who was so astonished that he had devoted his life’s work to ministering to persons with disabilities because, in her words, they’re so “frightening.”


But isn’t it the case, Vanier reflects, that we see in others what we’re afraid to see in ourselves, that we as humans are all fragile beings, with weaknesses, limitations, even disfigurements, and we all have a need to be loved and accepted as we are?


It’s for this very reason that the 156 L’Arche communities in 38 countries that Vanier helped found focus on the body, and particularly suffering bodies and bodies that have been deemed “less than.”


Vanier has stressed the importance of touch and attention to the body in welcoming newcomers to a L’Arche community. In sharing about how he himself had been physically touched by those whom he serves, he speaks of a tenderness where touch is important, touch which is not aggressive but welcoming and which teaches something about what it means to be human and to relate to one another and to celebrate life together.


***


Which brings us back to our scene with Jesus: Touch, of course, is so central to the practice of footwashing, and this moment that Jesus shares with his disciples is perhaps the most intimate, vulnerable moment of connection they experience together. This is the embodiment of the love with which Jesus loved them to the end.


Jesus’s love, the love to which we are called to embody ourselves, is a self-emptying love which is wholly concerned for the other. It’s a love which knows no bounds, and it’s a love in which we are enveloped by a God who comes to us in the flesh, emptying God’s self in Jesus, for us and for the life of the world.


It’s a love that often doesn’t often make much sense to us, as Vanier puts it:

“Jesus was quiet. And he ate with people who are caught up in prostitution, with tax collectors, with lepers … There's something so simple about Jesus that he is disarming. We don’t quite know what to do with it. Because frequently, we would want a powerful Jesus who will put everything straight, who will cure everybody, who will do everything that we tell him to do. And it’s not like that.”


Jesus’s love with which he loves us to the end is a vulnerable love that is full to the brim – and overflowing. It is a love that holds no regard for human standards. It is a love without prerequisites or limits or exceptions.


It is a love poured out for us in the water that washes over our feet and in the waters that wash over us in our baptism. It is a love set before us at this table, in this meal. It is a love with arms extended wide on the cross.


Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.