Sermon by Fr. Joshua Bell SSC, Sunday 27th September 2020
Readings: Ezekiel 18:25-28; Philippians 2:1-11; Matthew 21:28-32
A few years ago on Maundy Thursday I saw a news article about a bishop and some of his priests on their local high street, polishing people’s shoes. This, the Bishop explained, was a modern-day action comparable to the washing of the disciples’ feet by Jesus on the night of the Last Supper.
Jesus, when he washed the feet of his disciples, took on himself the work of a servant – washing feet after a day on dusty roads in sandals would have been a much grimier equivalent of what we would do today when guests arrived: taking their coats and hats, and so forth.
What we do on Maundy Thursday is a more sanitised version of that. When Father Adrian washes people’s feet – which of course he he wasn’t able to do this year – usually those who have been volunteered will have made sure that they’ve had a wash and put on fresh socks already; so in fact there’s not usually much dirt to wash off!
And similarly, when the Bishop is polishing peoples shoes, the discomfort of bending down over the shoes is outweighed, I expect, by the novelty of having our shoes polished. Because these things aren’t every day occurrences, we don’t, I think, truly grasped how much of a lowly job foot washing would have been.
But imagine that instead of polishing your shoes, the Bishop was going to clean your toilet, and that instead of him finding the bathroom already sparkling clean because you knew he was coming, imagine that he came on just an ordinary day.
This is the lowliness that Jesus embraced when, in the words of St. Paul, he emptied himself to become as all men are – he didn’t find a world greeting its king, like when Her Majesty opens a new, freshly painted hospital. He came as anybody else.
So what does it mean to have the same mind as Christ Jesus? How do we “consider the other person to be better than ourselves”?
Recently I was talking with some new Sea Cadets about the culture of our cadet unit, the way we would like atmosphere to be, and so forth. After discussing why we shouldn’t, for instance, be horrible to people, or kick them just because their uniform is scruffy, we agreed that all of this comes down to the golden rule, to do to others what we would want done to us.
Sometimes this approach is criticised, by people who point out that even when we do as we would want it done, people don’t always behave in the same way, having received kindness from us, they return it with unkindness. I don’t doubt the truth of this, and I’m sure many of us could think of times when we have extended the hand of friendship to a person, only for it to be rejected, or accepted and then misused.
When this happens it’s easy to become bitter, but this innocuous sounding sin is a deadly one. Bitterness is what happens when pride doesn’t get its own way. If I become bitter because I haven’t received what I think I deserve – even if I do deserve it! – Then can I truly be said to have emptied myself and become humble like Jesus?
Think of all the goodness imparted by Jesus to those around him: the sick he healed, the sins he for gave, the hungry he fed. What did he get in return? A crowd who mocks him, who called for his death. He received the way of the cross. But he accepted this humiliation gladly. His life, his dignity, was not taken away from him by anybody: he laid it down freely. There was no bitterness in Jesus as he walked the way of the cross to Calvary.
And so we, if we would seek to be like Jesus, must reject all bitterness. “Father, forgive them,” was the answer he gave to his mockers on Calvary. So we, too, must forgive those who hurt us.
A tall order, for all of us, I know! But at the end of this great obstacle course is the promise that “the last shall be first”. As a result of Jesus’s humility, we here in our parcel that God raised him high: he who went down to the depths was raised to the heights of heaven.
On the cross the sign over Jesus’s head said, “Jesus of Nazareth: King of the Jews”. A tool of mockery which was taken by God and made into the name above every name: Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe! This is the name which is above all other names so that all beings in the heavens, on Earth, and in the underworld should bend the knee at it.
We adore you, O Lord Jesus Christ, in this church and all the churches of the world, and we bless you, because by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world.