Based on Exodus 12:1-14, 1Cor 11:23-26, John 13:1-17, 31-35
When someone tells you that they are going to make an “example” out of you, it is usually not a pleasant experience. In my life, more often than not, it has meant being held up for ridicule or as an object lesson for how not to do something. Sometimes it is all in good fun and a “growth” opportunity, sometimes there is more of a legal consequence attached to the example making; as in the case of Jesus. The High Priest Caiaphas needed to get control of things – seems a wandering rabbi from Nazareth had become outspoken and had in fact openly flaunted the authority of the Temple leadership. The Temple leadership needed to make an example of Jesus in front of the people who followed Him. Jesus needed to be put in his place, but to do that permanently, Caiaphas would need help from the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate.
Jesus was always teaching and modeling by example how He wanted His disciples to live and interact with the world. Jesus taught exclusively using parables – examples if you will. Once, He told those gathered that the kingdom of God was like a mustard seed. At another time, He said that God’s love was like a shepherd searching for a lost sheep or a woman for a lost coin or a man for his lost sons. Another example was to turn the world order on its head and to tell everyone that the first should be last and servant of all. His life was an example of wholehearted living and forgiveness. He ate with sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes…all the marginalized of “polite society”. He helped his followers see by example that living in this way – meeting people where they were and helping to heal and return them to right living in community, was the way we all were/are to live.
He often made examples of the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees and the way they interpreted God’s rules for life into their rules for wealth, prestige and power. One of these examples was turning over the money changers’ tables in the Temple and telling the leadership that requiring the poor to pay for forgiveness of sins was amoral and against God’s laws. This example was the final straw for the Temple leadership. Unfortunately, they could not kill Jesus for violating any of their rules or calling them on their improper behaviors and choices; they had to go to the Romans for that.
So, the Temple leaders found the weak link in the disciples, a zealot named Judas Iscariot. Judas was unhappy with Jesus because he wasn’t the kind of zealous Messiah that was seeking to overthrow the power of Rome through battle. Judas wanted the reign of a warrior king like David again and the glory of Israel to be reinstated. That was not the kind of realm that the example of Jesus was providing. Therefore, Judas agreed to betray Jesus on this night so long ago for 30 pieces of silver. The leaders were ready for the mock trial and they would pressure Pilate into doing their bidding and making an example of Jesus through crucifixion as a rebel or terrorist.
On this last night with his disciples before his betrayal, Jesus had a few last examples to give those who gathered for dinner – including the one who would betray him. What had begun as a Passover meal would now be transformed into examples of servanthood. First, he removed his outer robe and tied a towel around his waist. He began to wash the dirty feet of his students, of his friends. Showing by example how it is that those who believe in Jesus and call him Lord and Savior should behave. He then gave them a new commandment to love one another as He had loved them. If you love in this way, He said, all will know you follow me.
His second act of servanthood was to transform the Passover meal into a meal that signified the new covenant between God and God’s people. A new sacrament that was meant as an act of love to seal the communion between God and humans. The bread and cup that were shared was now not just a commemoration of the great Exodus from Egypt, but a reminder that through Jesus’ coming sacrifice and resurrection that death itself had been overcome. Our slavery to sin and to death was broken for all times through the mighty act of God in the resurrection. It was not just another meal to be eaten like every other to nourish our bodies – this was nourishment for the soul; a deepening connection each time it was celebrated. The believers in Corinth had missed this important point in the example of Jesus and Paul was correcting them – tonight, it is good for us to be reminded of the significance of this act of love as well.
For His great acts of love for all people, Jesus was executed. Tonight, we will share Holy Communion in honor and recognition of this means of grace. We also need to look to the example of Jesus in the acts of servanthood in the foot washing of powerful to powerless and the commandment to love as Jesus loved. This love He carried to the Cross in the forgiveness of those who tortured him and one of the two criminals lifted beside him. This love was what carried Him through the Cross – the Almighty love of God which conquers all things. It is this love that the resurrected Christ will use to forgive Peter his denials which came on this night so long ago.
Jesus’ examples are what we are called to live into. It does not matter that the worldly powers are aligned against us, or that fewer people believe in the gospel of Jesus in these days. Remember that at one time long ago, there were only Jesus and two handfuls of Jewish men who were transformed into a new creation by the example of Jesus and the Almighty love of God. Those transformed men began a movement which, through God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, changed the world forever. This is what will continue to happen if as disciples we will make the choice to let Jesus make examples of us for the transformation of the world. Amen and amen!