As another Lenten journey ends with this Holy Week, I find myself reflecting on what has stayed with me as I have read through and thought about Christ’s passion, one more time. I have a series of scenes in my mind depicting aspects of Jesus that leave strong impressions of extraordinary traits and behaviors.
One picture is Jesus’ weeping over at the death of Lazarus. Scripture tells us he was very troubled in spirit, and he wept. He does this even though he knows he will raise Lazarus up, quite soon. The loss and the sorrow and the grief are not things he can, apparently, easily brush away. This is God, weeping over the death of a friend. This is a picture of God’s heart.
Another scene is in the upper room, where he shared the Passover meal with his friends. He bends down to wash their feet and explains to them that this is the behavior he wants them to emulate. I think of him removing outer garments, bending down to the level of their feet, touching the dirt with his hands. He does this twelve times. It is a strong illustration of humility. But it also is in line with the entire way he has lived his life, up until this meal. The humble birth, working with his hands as a laborer, no title, no entourage, no trumpets blaring and big announcements that someone important has arrived.
The apostle Paul got it right when he wrote that Jesus
"did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8, NIV)
We are not yet at the cross in this part of the story, but the foot washing foreshadows the servanthood and the outpouring of himself that Jesus would exhibit on the cross. This was the modus operandi of Jesus for the whole of his life.
We see it also with the choice of the donkey when Jesus entered Jerusalem. The crowd waved palm branches, as one would for a king or conquering hero. But that was not the choice Jesus made for his “grand entrance.” He pointedly sat on a donkey as he entered the city.
But back to the upper room. There are many ways a person could choose to spend their last evening before being arrested and sentenced to death. One might want to be alone. One might want one last, fancy dinner. Certainly it does not tax the imagination to think of a person focusing on his own desires or needs. But this was not at all how Jesus spent his last few hours prior to the trial and ultimately, the cross. Jesus spends his time with his friends (who are the ones who end up betraying him) and he uses the time to carefully explain to them and emphasize for them all the things he thinks are particularly important for them to remember.
So, we have five chapters in John’s gospel that comprise what is sometimes called the Upper Room Discourse. In these chapters (John 13-17), among other things, Jesus particularly emphasizes humility, unity and above all, love. And he reassures them that he is not abandoning them and that they will have the Holy Spirit to help them. So, he comforts them, thinking of what they need at this time, and he leaves them with his strategy: unified loving servanthood, in dependence upon the gift of the coming Holy Spirit.
Of all the things he could have emphasized, these qualities and behaviors are uppermost in his mind.
John 13:1 reads: Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. Yes, that is exactly what he did. It was not self he was concerned with here; it was his disciples.
Two further pictures have stayed with me. One is the trial. As Jesus stands before “church” on the one hand and “state” on the other, with the crowd all around him, he is calm and completely poised. Though he has been dragged to the trial, at night, on false charges and with betrayal all around him, he knows that he is not the one on trial. As Ronald Rolheiser has written, “Pilate is on trial, the Jewish authorities are on trial, the crowds watching are on trial, and we who are hearing the story are on trial. Jesus alone is not on trial, even as his trial is judging everyone else.” Jesus is in control. He has chosen the cross. Again and again, he has had a chance to make a different choice, but he does not do that. He faces the cross, not enthusiastically, but freely. It is an act of profound sacrificial, self-emptying love, enacted for the very people who stand accusing him, belittling him, and betraying him.
The final picture of this man who came to show us what God is like takes place when he was actually nailed up on the cross. John writes this: When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. Even nailed up and so close to death, he thinks of his mother and the care that she needs, and he attends to it. He simply never stops doing acts of lovingkindness. And this is who God is, the one from whom love flows in a never-ending way. This is called chesed in Hebrew. It means giving oneself fully, with love and compassion. And this is Jesus, showing us the Father and making it clear that it will always, always be love operating in the world with Jesus on his rightful throne. Always, only, and ever, love.
This is the last in a series of Lenten reflections from Carrie Bare. The reflections previously posted are: “Remember You Are Dust,” “Bright Sadness,” “Temptation: The Little Lie,“ “Confession,” “Forgiveness,” and “Agony.”
About the author:
Carrie Bare is married to a pastor and mother of two grown sons. Though she is permanently based in Spokane, Washington, she is currently dividing her time between Spokane and Boulder. Carrie has been with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship since 1975, currently serving as a spiritual director, while also serving on the Faculty Ministry Team and as chaplain to the national leadership team for Grad Student and Faculty Ministry in Inter Varsity. She has always loved reading, especially fiction.
Amen! Thank you, Carrie.