Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
6 April 2023
The dysfunctional family bickering at the dinner table during Thanksgiving has, unfortunately, become a kind of American tradition, one to which many of us can probably relate. Today, in our Gospel reading from Luke, we see some dysfunction in Jesus’ family – his spiritual family, that is, his disciples. Gathered to celebrate the Feast of the Passover, the disciples exhibit some bad behavior. One of them, Judas, is about to betray his friend and master to the authorities. And the others are arguing with each other about who is the greatest among them. And all this in the context of the sacred moment when Jesus institutes the Sacrament of Holy Communion, the central act of Christian worship!
The Gospels don’t paint a very favorable portrait of the disciples. In spite of all the time that they spend with Jesus and the friendship and intimacy that they enjoy with him, they often fail to understand his message. They just don’t seem to get it. And this isn’t the first time in the Gospel of Luke that they are arguing over who is number one. Earlier in the book, they had the same argument. Jesus responded back then by placing a little child next to him and telling the disciples, “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest” (Luke 9:46-48). But the disciples obviously didn’t know what he meant because here they are again arguing over the very same issue of who is the greatest. So, Jesus repeats the message: “the greatest among you must become the youngest, and the leader like one who serves” (Luke 21:27).
Jesus rejects the disciples’ desire for personal honor and status. That is the way the world thinks. Jesus presents a new and different way of life, one that is not motivated by greatness and glory for oneself but rather by humility and service for others. And this is the life that we are called to live as followers of Jesus. But, as we know, this is easier said than done. We live in a society in which the game of status seems inescapable. Whether it is the neighborhood we live in, the car that we drive, or the clothes that we wear, we display our status. Our jobs and professions have their hierarchies, and we work hard to rise up the ladder of promotion and authority. Even the Church is not immune from the competition for status. Have you heard the phrase “purple fever”? It refers to a priest – or perhaps even a seminarian – who does little to hide the fact that they want to become a bishop.
Reining in our personal ambitions presents an extraordinary challenge for us. It goes against society. It goes against our human nature. For most of us, it will be a lifelong struggle. But we have help – divine help. Our Lord Jesus sets an example for us of humility and service for others. Today, immediately after the sermon, just as Jesus washed the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper, we, too, will wash each other’s feet. When the service is ended and we go out into the world, we will carry in our hearts a memory of this powerful symbolic act. And we will strive to live it out in our daily lives, serving in humility those with whom we live and work, as well as those for whom we pray: the aged and infirm, the widowed and orphans, the sick and the suffering, the poor and the oppressed, the unemployed and the destitute, the prisoners and captives.
In the struggle to overcome ourselves and live for others, we also find help in the Holy Eucharist. As we receive Christ’s Body and Blood into our own bodies in the mystery of the Blessed Sacrament, we unite with him and become one with him. And His Presence in the Eucharist grants us the strength, the spiritual nourishment, to carry out his work in the world.
In spite of all their faults and blunders, Jesus’ disciples eventually got it. They went on to embody the life of humble service that Jesus preached, and it is on their apostolic foundation that our faith rests. This evening, we join the disciples at the table that Jesus has prepared for us. We come to be fed with the holy food and drink of new and unending life. We come to be transformed that we might live no longer unto ourselves but for him who died for us and rose again, Jesus Christ Our Lord.
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!