This sermon was preached by Father Joseph Gleason on Maundy Thursday, April 9, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.
Transcribed by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services.
Gospel Reading: Luke 23:1-48
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. God is One.
Play a little fantasy game with me. Imagine something, and pretend that it is real. A very kind and wealthy friend hires a full-time servant to work at your house. He builds a little apartment right next to your house. This servant lives there, and 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at your beck and call, you can ask them to do literally anything, and they will do it. You don’t have to worry about the cost, because this wealthy friend is paying all the cost for this servant. What would you have them do? If you had the choice, what would you have them do?
Are there any of you that would have that servant do the dishes? The cooking? The cleaning? What about nasty clean-ups? The sewer backs up; the kids have an accident in the rest room; the baby has a dirty diaper. Laundry! How many of you would have your servant do the laundry? Anybody?
[There is no response.]
Everybody here must love doing laundry. What would you have them do? The cooking? Would you have them work on your car; maybe wash your car? Maybe change the oil in it? Do your hair? Fold your clothes? Iron your clothes? Maybe be your driver? [You could] have your own chauffeur.
Most people, when they have a servant, want to give the servant the jobs they don’t want to do. That’s why they hire somebody else to do them. The things that person enjoys doing, they do themselves. There is a reason why people pay the servants to change the oil, to cook the meals, to get down on their hands and knees like a scullery maid and scrub the kitchen floors, clean out the toilets, clean out the bathtubs.
Nobody hires a servant and says, “will you please play the X-Box for me for a couple of hours and then watch TV and then order in some Chinese food? Meanwhile, I’m going to get on my hands and knees and go scrub this kitchen. We have servants do those things that we don’t want to do.
Let’s try something different. I want you to imagine something entirely different now. About ten in the morning, Landon walks in and says, “Mom! Give me some ice cream!” Would you just run right in there and say, “oh sure! Here you go”?
Russ, how would it go over if you were sitting in a chair and you said, “Jean, bring me a beer”? Would that go over real well?
Maybe it’s not just ice cream or a beer. Maybe it’s not even a rude tone of voice. Let’s just say it’s some job that we really don’t like. It’s not difficult to get a beer out of the fridge or to get some ice cream out of the freezer. With those things, we may just not like the tone of voice it’s asked in.
Now, Denise, suppose Henry David said, “Sweetheart, I need you to go out and change the oil in my truck please.” Since he said “please,” you’d run out and do it, right?
Amy, I bring in a nice, fat chicken that I’ve worked a couple of months to get ready for the dinner table. It’s already plucked and killed, and all you have to do is gut it. Just rip those guts right out of there, clean that chicken out, and get our supper ready just like Ma Ingles would have done. You’d jump right up and say, “yes, Dear. No problem!”
Of course, when the wives ask things of their husbands, the husbands never balk at it, right? “You know, the grass is really getting tall, Sweetheart. Would you go mow that right now, please?”
“Okay, I like riding on the riding mower. I like the zero-turn. No problem. I’ll do that.”
Yeah, and there’s a sewer leak. Would you just go jump in and do that yourself, or do you call for help? We don’t call them servants anymore. We call them professionals. We pay other people to do the stuff that we don’t want to do.
When you think about having someone to serve you, it’s easy to think about all of the jobs that you would push off to them. I’d have them do the cooking. I’d have them do the cleaning.
I’d definitely have them scrub the toilets, fix the plumbing, and change the oil, and do all the dirty stuff like that. When we start thinking about someone in our own family asking us to be the servant, asking us to do what is difficult, or smelly, or not fun, then, suddenly, we get less comfortable with the idea. Could that possibly be because we are not comfortable with the idea of being servants?
If you thought of yourself as a servant, if you thought of yourself as a slave, if you thought of yourself as lower than every other person in your household, you wouldn’t even think twice about that kind of request, would you? You’d run and do what you need to do, because that is what a servant does.
It’s interesting: If you work with animals, you run into a lot of things that you don’t expect. It doesn’t matter if you work with chickens, or rabbits, or goats. It’s never as easy as it looks.
With my goats, they had little baby goats growing horns. If you’re going to de-horn them, I had to build a little box out of wood, immobilize the little goat in this box of wood with just his head sticking out, heat up this iron to 1,000 degrees, put it on this poor little baby goat’s head, and hold it there while he’s screaming and kicking. Then you can knock the little horn off, and you see this little gooey red-white stump with blood vessels in it, and you take this thousand-degree iron, and you sizzle it on there, and they’re screaming.
I don’t really like doing that very much. Would anybody like to volunteer to handle that for me next year? Ruth? Does that sound good? That’s the kind of thing you’d have your servant do if you had a servant. It’s not the kind of stuff we want to do.
That’s not all. This one goat had this big boil come up on her face last year. We didn’t know what it was. Finally, I got some advice from a lady that’s been handling goats for about forty years, and I got basically a razor blade. One of my daughters helped me with this. I took the razor blade and sliced it. It’s like cream cheese just squeezing out of the sore on the side of this goat. Boy, did it not smell very good when it came out! Then it was bleeding, and you’re kind of trying to stretch it and put disinfectant and iodine [on it].
Okay. If you don’t want to help me with de-horning the goats, who wants to help me with that the next time we have a problem? Sound good, Denise? Do you want to pitch right in and help with the goat boils?
There’s other options. Multiple times, our goats have gotten what’s called coccidosis. It’s a little amoeba that they get. Instead of the nice little brown, what looks like chocolate covered raisins, this turns into full-blown diarrhea. I mean, it’s just going everywhere. Oh boy! You won’t call goats smelly normally when they’re healthy once you’ve smelled that. It’s just a whole new world.
To fix it is a lot of fun. What you do is to take this powder and mix it into water. Get it in this big syringe. Then you have to manhandle this goat, because goats don’t like syringes in their mouths. So you force the mouth open, you stuff the syringe down, and you do what’s called a drench. You make them drink this stuff for five days in a row to help get rid of the problem “down south.”
Christa, is that your new calling in life? Do you want to help goats that have coccidosis?
I’m seeing lots of queasy looks here today. Lots of stomachs are turning. It’s not sounding very good. I’ve got a story to trump all of those. You think those are bad? I’ve got another one for you. I want you to listen closely to this story, because this story is not out in the Middle East somewhere. This story is not somewhere far away. This is us. This is your home. This is my home, and it’s even grosser than the goats.
There’s this husband and wife. They went to church Sunday morning. At least, that’s where they were headed. It started out fine. They were happy, upbeat, and excited, and [were] looking forward to going to church. They had already gotten dressed up. They were almost ready to go. The kids were ready.
Before they got out the door to get in the car, they smelled something. The husband found it first. He walked into the bathroom, and there was this horrible smell. He thinks, “there’s got to be something wrong with the plumbing.” So he gets the plunger and starts plunging, but instead of getting better, it gets worse. Some of the solid waste backed up into the toilet. His stomach about turned, and he walked out of there.
With the smell getting even stronger, the wife came over to that part of the house. She said, “what’s going on? What’s wrong? That’s horrible.” He said, “well, the sewer is backing into the toilet or something. I tried to fix it. I tried to plunge a little bit, but there’s just no way. I’m not going to do it.”
She said, “what are you talking about? It’s got to be fixed. We can’t afford a plumber.” He said, “you’re right. We can’t afford a plumber, but, I’ll tell you what: you go in there, and you do it.”
Her eyes got this big around. She couldn’t believe her ears. She couldn’t believe that her husband had actually asked her to go handle this problem. She takes one step into that bathroom, and she looks and about throws up. The smell overwhelms her, and she gets angry. She starts yelling at him, and says, “you’ve got to be crazy if you think I’m going to even walk into that room! Do I look like a plumber to you? You’re the man. You’re supposed to handle this stuff. Do you actually think I am going to work on that dirty toilet?”
Then he started yelling at her, and they were both upset. Both of them expected the other one to do something about it. Both of them were too proud to do anything about it, because they don’t like that kind of work.
They wanted to make good appearances, and so, angry and grouchy and fighting with each other, the whole mess of them – Dad, Mom, and kids – hop into the car. They come to church. They all smile, greet everybody, and sing. I’m sure that part probably doesn’t ring true for any of our homes. We’ve never fought before church! You can at least imagine it.
They finished worshiping God at church after yelling at each other at home. Then they went back to mad the minute they got in the car, because they knew what they were going back home to.
As soon as they got home, the husband went out to mow the lawn. The wife went inside and was crying, and she could hardly stand it, because now the whole house smelled this way. Finally, she just broke down and said, “you know what? He probably should have taken care of it, but he asked me to do it. I guess I can try to do something. If I can’t figure it out, we can take some money out of the emergency fund. I’m sure he’ll agree to that, and we can just call a plumber.”
So she walks over to the bathroom. She’s going to try the plunger, and she is shocked. She thought that she had seen her husband go out to the shed to get on the lawn mower, but she walks to the bathroom, and lo and behold, there is this man cleaning out the toilet, working on the plumbing, and getting everything working.
She is unsure how it happened so quickly, but he’s already gotten so filthy! He’s been reaching down in there, and stuff has been coming up out of the floor. Because the toilet had to be disconnected, it’s gotten everywhere. He has literally gotten crap all over him. He’s covered in it. He reeks of it.
Now she really starts bawling out crying, because she had been so furious with her husband. She finally just decided that she was going to do something to help out, and now she sees that he actually is doing something about it. She just said, “oh, I am so sorry. I am so sorry. Please forgive me.” He says, “I forgive you.”
Then she gets scared because that’s not her husband’s voice. Then he turns and looks at her, and she sees his face, and she falls to her knees because that’s Jesus that came into her house. She is the last one that used the bathroom, so that is literally her crap all over him. Now, she’s trembling.
The husband walks in, utterly shocked. He can’t believe what’s going on. He falls to his knees too. Again, the Lord Jesus says, “I forgive you.” She says, “but Lord, how can You do something so humiliating?” Then the husband chimes in and he says, “Lord, You are our Creator and our God. You spoke the worlds into existence. You created us. You saved us. We go to church. We went to church this morning to worship You. How could You be doing something so degrading and humiliating?”
With the washing of feet, I tried to teach you a lesson, but you didn’t learn it. In your culture, you forgot what it meant to a middle-easterner to put on the clothes of a servant and to touch somebody’s dirty, smelly feet, and to wash them, as if they themselves were a slave. You didn’t realize the significance of it, living in your western culture. So I wanted to give you the same example again in terms that you would understand.
Man, you are this woman’s husband. You are the priest of your home. You are supposed to be Christ to your wife. But when she asked you to do something about the plumbing, you refused to serve her, because you thought that this kind of work was below you. You thought you were too good to get yourself dirty to serve your wife.
Woman, you are this man’s wife, his help-meet, his very own flesh and bone! You committed to be with him in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, for better or worse, ’til death do us part. Whether he should have asked you to do this or not is beside the point. He asked you to do this, and you refused, because you don’t like to get dirty. You thought this kind of filthy work was below you. You thought you were too good to work on the plumbing. So I, your Lord, and your God, and your Savior am up to my elbows in your feces. I have humbled myself like the lowest of slaves, like the lowest of servants. When you smell me, you smell the smell of your own sin.
Because I am lower than you? Oh, no. For you see, I am God. The entire universe, the worlds, the angels, the entire created order is below Me. I am the King. I am God. But I am humble, and I am willing to be humbled. I am willing to be humbled all the way to servanthood, and slavery, and stench so that I can serve you. I don’t just do it as a one-time thing. I do it as an example, because as your Lord, and as your God, I am telling you: this is precisely how you are to serve one another – not just when it’s something you enjoy doing; not just when it’s something you feel like doing; not when you feel like you have time for it; not when it’s convenient; but especially when it requires total humiliation, humbling yourself as if you are the lowest of servants, the lowest of slaves; doing the jobs that you hate the most. [Do this] not because you have to but because you want to because that is how much you love your spouse. That is how much you love your children. That is how much you love your parents. That is how much you love Me.
In arrogance, you may feel like that other person is below you. You may feel like that job is below you, whatever it is. But I guarantee you this: the distance between you and that job, and the distance between you and that other person are far smaller than the distance between you and Me. If I, your Lord and your God, am willing to get down to my elbows in your filthy plumbing so that I can serve you with love, then John, Russ, Calvin, Ruth, Katie, Christa, Hunter, David, Daphne, Denise, Henry Davide, Kimberly, Amy, Kelsie, Julie, Andrea, Andrew, Jeremy, Subdeacon Jeremy, Landon, everybody that’s here, everybody that’s in the church, that is what you yourself are to do.
Maybe this story hits you a little hard. Maybe you still cannot even imagine humiliating yourself to the point of you, not some other husband and not some other wife but you yourself, cleaning out a filthy, stinking toilet, working on a sewer system until you are literally covered in it. If that repulses you, if that sounds humiliating, if that sounds like something you wouldn’t do in a million years even for your own spouse, even for your own children, even for your own parents, you need to remember that this is precisely how humiliating it was for Christ to put on the clothes of a servant to touch and wash the feet of His disciples. In the Middle East 2000 years ago, you simply did not do that unless you were a servant or a slave.
This is not the only time in the Bible that we see this type of picture. Remember when John the Baptist sees Jesus, and he says, “I am not even worthy to touch the latchet on his sandal” [cf. John 1:27]. What John the Baptist is saying is that the lowest of the low sandals, the lowest of the low slaves are the only ones you would even think about asking to mess with the latchets on your sandals, because that’s just filthy. You don’t touch dirty, stinky feet unless you’re a slave. John the Baptist was placing himself even lower than that. He said, “you know what? Jesus is so far high above me that I am not even worthy to be his slave. I am not worthy to be a slave that touches his feet.”
Because this world is so enamored with power, the world wouldn’t be surprised at all to see this great and might God, Jesus Christ, demanding that all of His loyal followers wash His feet and kiss His feet. But He turned it upside down! He who is God humbled himself to the most humiliating, lowest point, and said, “I will put on the clothes of a servant. I will do the worst jobs, the smelliest jobs, the most humiliating jobs. I will wash your feet to show you that if you are going to be like Christ, it means you must be humble.”
If you are too proud to get dirty; if you are too proud to do the jobs you don’t like to do; if you are too proud to even do something you hate because you know it will help serve your wife, or serve your husband, or serve your children or your parents; if you are not willing to get down in the dirt, and work hard, and do things that are lowly and menial so that you can serve other people, then you are not like Christ.
It’s no mistake that Jesus washed the feet of His disciples on the same night in which He started the Eucharist. The same Jesus on the same day who says, “this is my body. . . this is my blood,” the same day, he washes the disciples’ feet – the Master taking the form of a slave. He tells us, “this is an example I am giving you. Now you wash each other’s feet. You work on each other’s sewer lines. You clean each other’s toilets.”
I don’t care what the job is. I don’t care what it is that you hate. For everybody, it’s different. For some people, they cannot bear the thought of washing dishes. For some people, it’s laundry. For some people, it’s just cleaning the house. Some people love to clean the house, but they really, really hate to fold up the laundry, or they hate to paint.
Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. Whatever it is that you think is below you, whatever it is that you think is menial, whatever you think it is that somebody else in your house should have to do and poor little you shouldn’t have to do it, Jesus calls you to become a servant. Jesus calls you to become a slave. For if God Himself will wash your feet, then you are called to wash the feet of everybody in your family and in your church.
Tonight, here in a little bit, I am going to wash your feet. When you first walked in, before you got into the church, you probably saw that icon of Christ washing the feet of the disciples. Tonight, that’s all I am. I am just an icon of Christ. I am not Christ, Himself, but I am an icon of Christ as your priest. As I am washing your feet, Christ is washing your feet. Your Lord and your God is going to touch your feet, and no matter how they smell, no matter what they look like, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is going to wash your feet, and kiss your feet, and dry your feet. Then, Jesus Christ Himself is going to call you to do the same after you leave here tonight and for the rest of the year, for you to humble yourself like a servant, like a slave, and to serve everyone around you, no matter how humiliating the task.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.Our God is One.
This sermon was preached by Father Joseph Gleason on Maundy Thursday, April 9, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.
Transcribed by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services. Dormition Text Services provides full service secretarial support, including homily transcription and publishing services, to Orthodox clergy and parish communities.