John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Did anyone's mom tell them not to put their elbows on the table? Or to chew with your mouth closed? Or not to talk when you eat? So many rules for the table!
What about at school? No talking loud. No throwing food. Then there are the unspoken rules of the table. This group doesn't eat w that group. Sporty kids stick with sporty kids. Slackers with slackers. The theater kids eat over there, the Spanish-speakers at that table.
Even in the world of work and business, who eats with whom matters. Who sits next to the CEO at the company dinner? The intern it ain't.
So many table rules--manners that are about more than eating. Watch any episode of Downton Abbey and you will be able to see all those manners about who belongs and who doesn’t on full display.
It was true in Jesus' time too--perhaps more so. We are familiar with the saying, "you are what you eat." In the time of Jesus, and maybe now, the saying should be, "you are with whom you eat."
And Jesus kept breaking all those rules, all the time. He kept eating with people he wasn't supposed to eat with: people of every sort, especially people no one else would eat with. And he kept breaking the other rules of the table too. He let the youngest disciple sit next to him at the Last Supper--even though the youngest is supposed to sit at the end, the kid table. He kept letting people who are supposed to be last be first, to the people who were least important, he gave the best seat in the house.
And now we come to this last meal--and it gets even worse! First Jesus takes off his outer garment--so basically he's standing there in his underwear. Then he starts to do work reserved for the lowest member of the household: a servant, a child, the lowest ranking woman, doing the work they do and washing his students feet. Bad enough that Jesus has been eating with the wrong people--now he's acting like the people nobody wants to be!
We like to make fun of Peter's reaction. Good old stupid Peter: he never gets it right. Except I think that Peter is the smartest of all of them. He gets it exactly right--and he is embarrassed for his half naked teacher, kneeling down there doing work no one wants to do. And he knows if he lets Jesus wash his feet, he's going to have to do it too.
"Do you know what I have done for you? If I have washed your feet, so you must do, as I have done for you." The good news is: Jesus has declared open season on all those table manners that govern who is important and who is not. The table of Jesus is an open table--no reserved seating. These are the table manners of the kingdom of God: the last are made first, the lowest are brought high and the mighty are cast down.
The bad news is: Jesus has declared open season on all those table manners, and if we eat at his table, we are promising to do as he did: to act like servants, to cross borders, to behave in ways that some people might find embarrassing, to sit at the wrong table.
So if we want to eat at Jesus’ table, it is time to take off our shoes and socks, and start practicing.