John 13:1-17 is one of my favorite passages in all of scripture. I have come to think of it as the biblical version of Robert Fulghum’s book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.
In this passage one of the most powerful persons to ever set foot on earth – the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords- gets up from his last supper, drops to his knees and begins to wash the feet of the very people who should have been serving him. Wow. This act is unexpected and countercultural, then and today. Sitting around the table are a betrayer, a denier, a doubter, and a couple of brothers who wanted to sit on Jesus’ right and left side to help him judge others.
If there was ever a person who had the right to be disgusted with the sin in the lives of the people sitting around the table it was Jesus. Yet Jesus doesn’t leave in frustration or call out the sin of those around the table. Rather he picks up a towel, pours some water in a basin, and begins to wash their feet. I cannot help but wonder what Jesus was thinking as he washed the feet of Judas and Peter knowing that one would betray and the other deny him. Did he pray? Or maybe he looked them in the eyes offering them a way out. We can only speculate. This I do know: the “sin” around the table did not push Jesus away from the table.
Why do believers respond so differently to what we perceive to be sin? Some of the hallmarks of followers of Jesus are reconciliation, redemption, restoration, forgiveness, conversion, and discipleship. If these are the bedrock hallmarks of followers of Jesus then why do people of faith so often abandon and condemn those they believe to be sinners?
I am not completely naïve. There are certainly times when fellowship is and needs to be broken. However, even in Jesus’ case it is Judas who walks away from Jesus, not the other way around. In many ways Judas and Peter commit the same sin. They both turn their backs on a friend. They both run. Where Judas hangs himself, Peter comes running back to the table (Read John 21). This makes all the difference.
Too often we have equated theological differences with sin and this quickly leads to justifiable reasons for breaking fellowship. I would like to propose that like Jesus we are called to stay at the table, always serving, always hoping, and always loving. Here the interesting catch, either their heart will change or our heart will change. This kind of transformation can only happen if we stay at the table. I propose that leaving the table, even if we believe there is sin at the table, is the larger sin.