Today’s text is from John 13:1-17.
Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood debuted 50 years ago this month in 1968. Four years before the series began, on June 18, 1964, black and white protesters swam in a white’s only hotel pool in St. Augustine, Florida. The owner of the hotel proceeded to put acid into the pool.
The very next day, the Civil Rights Act was passed in Congress after 83 days of filibuster. Four years later Fred Rogers, a white man, and Francois Clemmons, a black man, sat together with their feet in the same swimming pool on television.
In the same decade where a white man and a black man shared the same waters of a pool, Senators in Congress said, “they would resist to the bitter end any measure or any movement which would have a tendency to bring about social equality” and that the Civil Rights Bill was “unconstitutional, unnecessary, unwise and extended beyond the realm of reason”.
In 1969 Fred Rogers extended a love, friendship, and hospitality that at the time was hotly debated in Congress and this country. But I’ll let Francois Clemmons explain this moment that occurred on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood in 1969 in his own words.
In the same decade where discrimination against People of Color was rampant, two individuals of different backgrounds came together. Two people shared a friendship and a love that broke down barriers.
In our reading for today Jesus does the same. There are a couple scandalous things about our reading today – the first thing being that to wash someone else’s feet was the task and job of a servant.
This explains Peter’s intense reaction to Jesus attempting to wash his feet. Jesus was their teacher, Lord, master, Savior. And yet Jesus assumes the role of servant – not because he has to, but because he wants to.
The second, and perhaps more, scandalous thing about this reading is that Jesus washes all his disciples’ feet – Judas included. We’re told that Jesus knows what Judas will soon do, we’re told that Jesus knows what the days ahead will hold for his fate.
And so he shows unprecedented love, grace, mercy, friendship – not only to those who we think would deserve it, but even to those who are doing the work of the devil – even to those who would betray and bring about Jesus’ death – even to those who would deny Jesus – even to those who would soon abandon Jesus in his very time of need.
Death awaits Jesus. Betrayal awaits Jesus. And Jesus knows it. Yet he loves anyway. He serves anyway. He doesn’t claim to be great. He doesn’t demand confession. He doesn’t withhold love or grace or mercy.
Instead, in the midst of looming death and betrayal and evil itself – Jesus loves and serves. We too are called to serve the world as Jesus served – without hesitation or reservation. It won’t be easy. The world won’t understand our actions. Others will demand that greatness stems from our power and wealth, not our humility and compassion.
But Jesus Christ shows us another way. The way of unfailing service and love. A love that is overflowing and abundant for you and the world. A love that never ends. A love that surrounds us whether we think we deserve or not. A love that secures us in the arms of our Lord and Savior.
For this day and always you are abundantly loved by Jesus Christ.