Please pick up my onions

March 16, 2014   John 13:1-17

fd242b0feb9c7226516f6e2910ff8eccHome Ec was not my subject.  I struggled to make the simplest octopus pillow and never did wear anything I made for wearing.  I tried, but it was not my deal.  The precise measuring, the attention to detail, the doing and un-doing.  It was tedious for me. Other people made it look like magic. 


I still remember the day when I grabbed for a container of pins and they all went on the floor.  Hundreds of them. Scattered.  Right at the end of class as the bell rang. Now, all things considered, not the worst thing to have happen when you’re 14.  There was no loud noise that called everyone’s attention to me.  And I’ll never forget, Scott immediately bent down and started to help me pick up the pins. Without a glance or a word, he just helped me pick them up.  It was the littlest thing.  But here I am, almost 30 years later, telling you about it.


Jesus is hanging out with his closest friends.  They’ve been with him through all kinds of stuff – healings and feedings and teachings.  jesus-nazareth-355Slowly but surely, Jesus has been making all the higher ups mad.  They’re plotting to kill him.  And, Jesus has not kept it a secret but had been telling his disciples that the cross was coming.  Our story today begins with reminding us that Jesus knows what the future holds.

His future holds betrayal and denial and abandonment.  By the ones who have been by his side. By his dinner companions. By his closest friends.

6a00d8341c7a9f53ef01538dfbd8cc970bJesus gets up from the table, takes off his robe and ties a towel around himself and then begins to wash the feet of his friends.


Foot washing is largely lost on us today.  But back in the 1st century, it was customary that when you arrived at someone’s home, the servant of the house would wash your feet. It was as normal as offering someone a place to sit and a glass of water.  But it was done by the servant, not the master of the house.


So of course, this startles his friends. Simon Peter protests, saying you will never wash my feet. Which, I totally get.  Jesus? Wash my feet? And do you hear what Jesus says back to him? Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.


What does it mean to have a share with Jesus?  To have a share with Jesus means you receive from him.  To have a share with Jesus means you can pretend all you want that your feet don’t stink.  You can put awesome smart wool socks on and get fancy pedicures and dress ‘em up with designer shoes.  But in the end we all have dirty feet and Jesus knows that and he says let me wash you with my love and you will be clean indeed. And you will know how to love each other. (Those last 2 sentences I stole from Nadia Bolz-Weber)

Once again, Jesus has to show them what he means.  This is how you love.  This is how you serve. And it turns them upside down and inside out. Because Jesus isn’t talking about showing love only when it’s easy or convenient.  He’s talking about showing love, the hard kind.  The kind without prescriptions or loop holes or requirements.

glennon-textGlennon Melton writes a blog called Momestary. I’ve talked about her a bunch and will, most likely, continue to do so.  Anyway, she tells a story about the grumpy old onion man.


She was in the grocery store with her young son, Chase.



I handed him a bag of tomatoes and he walked over to the scale and waited patiently in line. As I watched, an elderly man walked up old-man-with-cane1behind Chase, scowled at him for a moment, and stepped in front of him, bumping Chase out of the way. Chase looked shocked and scared. I left my cart and walked over to Chase, stood by him and said loudly, “Are you all right honey? I saw what that man did to you. That was very, very wrong and rude.” Chase said nothing, the Grumpy Old man said nothing. Chase and I held hands and waited.

 Pile of brown onionsWhen the man was finished weighing his bag, he turned around quickly and all of his onions spilled out of his bag and on to the dirty floor. The three of us froze for a moment. Then Chase looked up at me and I motioned toward the floor. Chase and I got down on our hands and knees and started collecting onions while the old man grouchily and grudgingly accepted them from our hands and put them back into his bag. After Chase and I retrieved the last onion, the old man walked away. Chase and I did too, and we didn’t discuss the event until we got back in the car.


On the drive home, Chase said through tears, “Mommy, I’ve had a frustrating day. That man cut right in front of me and that was wrong. And we had to help him pick up his onions! Why did we do that? That didn’t make any sense.”

I took a deep breath and said, “Chase, that man was acting horribly wasn’t he? He seemed to have a very angry heart. I’m so sorry that happened to you. But if we didn’t help him with his onions, do you think we would have made his heart softer or angrier?”

Angrier, Chase said.

“Since we did help him, do you think that might have made his heart softer?”

“Maybe,” Chase said.

“But you know what, Chase? I understand how you feel. I didn’t want to help that man with his onions. You know what I wanted to do?”


“I wanted to kick him really hard in the shin. I was very angry with that man for treating you badly. But sometimes doing what we really want to do, if it’s going to add more anger, isn’t the right thing to do. Even if it feels good at the time. If we wouldn’t have helped that old man, we might have felt good for a second, but then I bet we would have felt really, really yucky about ourselves for a long time. You and I, we have a lot of love to share. Maybe that man doesn’t have much. Maybe we offered him some today. People who behave badly still need love. ”

 And then this brilliant smile broke out on Chase’s face that was the smile of a heart recognizing the truth. It was a smile of a promise kept. It was the best smile I have ever seen, on any of my children.  It was a smile that said: Oh, I see. Sometimes we actually do what we talk about doing. And this is how it feels. God, it was a good moment. It may have been my best mommy moment ever. Thanks, Grumpy Old Onion Man.[1] 

As I mentioned before, foot washing is largely lost on us today.  I’m not talking about pedicures where you pay someone to wash your feet.  As you’ll see in the video playing behind me, it’s weird to be confronted with it out in public. It is quite something to sit down and take off your socks and shoes. It is quite something to receive something that requires you to be vulnerable.  Maybe you think feet are gross or maybe yours are disfigured or smelly.  Even better.

For Jesus to kneel before his friends must have taken their breath away. It must have put some bodily truth to what he’d been telling them, that he’d be hung on a cross. To have their teacher, their savior kneel before them, knowing full well they’d betray and abandon and deny they ever knew him.

What does it mean for you to have a share with Jesus?  It means you receive love that is going to change you.  It means you give love when you would rather not but would rather re-pay insult with an insult. Jesus models for his disciples again and again what it means to love. And it’s hard to give it. It’s hard to receive it.

Where have you seen that kind of love this past week?

Where do you pray to see it this week?