1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17, 31-35
The most condescending and hurtful insult I think I have ever heard was someone being told to “know your place.” The implied superiority of the one making the statement imposed such inferiority on the one to whom it is directed there is no response that can be given. It stops everything. Growing up in the south, that statement was infused with even deeper meaning as it was often directed toward African Americans and poor whites who did or said something that made the impression that they imagined they were higher in status that the speaker knew them to be. The comment made to anyone not in either of those categories suggested that they belong in one of those categories. During the Passover evening with his Apostles, Jesus essentially directed two apostles to know their place; however, the lesson he delivered defines our place in his kingdom and it is far from insulting.
The Exodus passage provides the requirements for Passover along with God’s command for observing it. One aspect to Passover that stands out against other festivals and rituals is that it focuses on practical actions for those who are prepared to flee at a moment’s notice. The directions for observing the holiday involved communal preparation, cooperation, and taking care of one another. Celebrating the event is supposed to remind the Jews of their salvation from Egypt.
Christians have our own event that mirrors the Passover. Thursday evening, Jesus retreated to a secluded upper room for an evening together with his Apostles. Jesus instituted communion as he broke the bread and shared the wine. With such staples as bread and wine, Jesus gave his followers a way to remember him and a way to share his ministry to others through the symbolism attached to the elements. Jesus also took the time to wash the feet of each disciple. The disciples were not ready to grasp the significance of the actions, but within hours everything he said suddenly overflowed with meaning as those who had been taught by him understood the meanings of his lessons. By observing the rite as Jesus commanded, we are reminded of the sacrifice for our salvation.
Jesus found himself still addressing the right attitude of his followers even while teaching the final lessons of his ministry. The fiery and impulsive Peter struggled with the balance between humility and authority in Jesus’s kingdom. Jesus sternly corrected him twice as he demonstrated the power of servant-leadership. So much of what Jesus taught contradicted popular belief of strength and weakness then and now, yet when closely examined we have found what Jesus directed was remarkable in transforming the interaction. Jesus, knowing the events that would unfold sent Judas out to do what he was to do.
In his final lesson to the Apostles, Jesus commanded them to know their place. Rather than humiliate them into submissive obedience, Peter became a powerful church starter and Judas was able to go out and complete the betrayal. For both of them the power they exercised came by submitting to the people they served. Jesus reiterated his great commandment to love one another, which would become even more important when he was gone. The practices of communion and foot washing assist us to remember his lessons and to accept our place. Our place at the table. Our place as servants. Our place in authority, able to do anything God desires us to do.
Know your place!