There is an ancient Jewish joke that two in a conflict people came to a rabbi to settle their dispute. One person gave his perspective. The rabbi immediately said, “You are right.” The second person gave his perspective and the rabbi immediately said, “You are right.”
The rabbi’s students watched how their rabbi handled this and were perplexed. They asked the rabbi, “How could they both be right? They are saying two contradictory things.”
The rabbi looked at them and said, “You are right!”
I tell you this joke because I think it’s so strange that in the ancient world everyone thought that they were right and that others were wrong. I mean, we’ve progressed so much in the last few thousand years…
Religion in particular has a reputation of being dogmatic, of claiming ultimate truths about the world. And if we have the Ultimate Truth, then that means they don’t have the Ultimate Truth. And so we have to convince them that our Ultimate Truth is the Truth and if they don’t submit then they are either sinful or stupid and they are going to hell.
There are religious people who do that. There are some who look through the Bible and try to find what they think are concrete truths to claim that they are right and other people are wrong.
This “right and wrong” business misses the whole point of Judaism and of Christianity. Maybe I should also say that it misses the whole point of the Jewish Jesus.
Let me start with Judaism and then we will get to Jesus. All you have to do is read the first two chapters of Genesis and you find contradictions. In the first chapter, God creates plants, animals, and then humans. The second chapter of Genesis describes a second and different story about creation. In this story, humans are created first and then plants and animals. The order of creation in these two stories contradict.
We moderns react to these contradictions in numerous ways. For example, one group sees them and says, “But there can’t be any contradictions in the Bible. The Bible has to be right and without any contradictions, so we’re going to find all kinds of ways to try to iron them out.” But that’s impossible.
Another popular alternative is to just throw the Bible out. We notice the contradictions, that means it’s wrong, and so we’re just going to throw it out.
But the ancient Jews looked at the contradictions and said, “Yes” and “Yes.” There is something truthful in both of those contradictory accounts. And so, in some sense, those contradictions belong.
And I need to tell you that the contradictions in the Bible are one of the things that I love about that book. I mean, could it be any more true to life?
The Bible was written by humans and part of the truth I think it reveals is that life is full of contradictions. I’m 40 years old and when I look back on my life I see a lot of contradictions. I look back at some decisions and they make sense. I look back at other decisions and I think, “Man, that was really stupid.”
The ancient Jews were able to reconcile the contradictions in the Bible – not in a way that coherently merged them together, but in a way that said those contradictions belong.
And I’m in the process of trying to reconcile my life. Good and bad things have happened to me. And I have done good and bad things to others. There have been times when I beat myself up over some things. But I’m getting to the point where I can claim that in some way all of those contradictions belong. In some way they are part of the story of who I am and who I am becoming.
But it takes a lot of work because we live in a culture that is very uncomfortable with contradictions, despite the fact that our culture is full of contradictions. We suppress these contradictions, in part because we feel we have to be right, which means that others are wrong.
The problem with our joke this morning is that it can lead us to be wishy-washy. But to tell you the truth, there are times when I think that others are wrong and I am right. For example, I’m right that our LGBTQ siblings are loved and accepted just as they are. I’m right that we need to work hard so that women’s rights aren’t taken away from them. I’m right that we need better gun legislation. I’m right that no human being deserves to be houseless. Frankly, I’m pretty sure I’m right about a lot of things.
But here’s the contradiction that I need to reconcile: God loves all people, including those who I think are wrong.
Which is good, because there are times when I’ve discovered that I wasn’t as right as I thought I was. There are times that we’ve all been wrong. And yet, we’re all still loved.
And sometimes even when I’m right, I can divide the world into good guys to work with and bad guys to defeat. Pretty soon I get to the point where even if I’m right, I end up acting very wrong.
Which is where our New Testament passages come in. In our story from Luke, Jesus just ate the last supper with his disciples. He then knelt down to wash their feet.
This moment where Jesus washes his disciples’ feet is so important. Jesus does not take a position of being “right.” That would put him above his disciples. But Jesus kneels down below his disciples to wash their feet. This is a moment of intimacy and vulnerability and it’s gross. Feet are gross. Especially first century feet that have been walking through desert and dirt in sandals without modern anti-bacterial medicine. That’s gross. But more to the point, Jesus’s disciples were above him. They could have kicked him or pushed him down. He was vulnerable. Jesus wasn’t so concerned about showing us how to be right and make others wrong. He was concerned with showing us how to love.
Notice in our passage what Jesus does not say. He does not say, “I give you a new commandment, that you be right. Just as I have been right, so shall you be right. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, that you are right and others are wrong.”
Jesus does not emphasize being right. Instead, he emphasizes love. He says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Throughout most of Christian history, we have emphasized orthodoxy. Orthodoxy means “right praise” or right belief. And I think orthodoxy is good. For example, it’s an orthodox belief to say that God loves everyone. Praise God! God loves our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender siblings. God loves the poor and the homeless. God loves the undocumented immigrant. God loves black and brown and white bodies.
But even the orthodox belief that God loves everyone needs to be balanced by orthopraxy. Orthopraxis literally means “right practice.” For too long, Christians have emphasized orthodoxy at the expense of orthopraxy.
Orthopraxis asks, “We believe that God is love and God loves all people, so how should we respond?” We respond by working for a more just and loving world for all people, but especially for those who are neglected or marginalized. We work for a more just world for women whose rights are constantly under under attack by our patriarchal culture. We work for a more just world for our LGBTQ siblings who in 28 states still do not have laws protecting them from discrimination. We work for better gun legislation because we’re tired of hearing about school children getting shot up. We work for a more just world for the poor and homeless because they also carry with them the sacred image of God.
We work for a more just and loving world because Jesus calls us not just to love one another, but to love even our enemies because Jesus loved his enemies.
And for me, this may be the biggest contradiction of all. God loves all people, even those that I think are totally wrong. Even those who I think are standing in the way of a more just and loving world. Yes, God loves them too. And there are times that this fact just annoys me to no end.
Because it means I have to look at them and say, “Yes” to their belovedness. Maybe this is where we find the glory of God.
Jesus says in our passage something really awkward about glory. He says, “‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.” That’s such a weird and nearly incomprehensible statement.
Except that Jesus connects this glory with a radical love. Jesus didn’t just love on a theoretical level, he loves on a practical level. He acted it out in deeds of service. He washed feet. He included the excluded. He healed the sick. He loved his enemies.
On one level I hate that kind of love. But on another level, I think it’s the most beautiful thing in the world. The world is yearning for a group of people to band together and struggle for justice while trying their best to remain loyal to following Jesus in loving one another and even our enemies as Jesus loves us.
And here’s why I think this is so beautiful and healing. I have contradictions inside of me. And I am called to love myself. You have contradictions inside of you. And we are all called to love you. And you are called to love yourself. And I know sometimes that’s hard. It’s hard because we are usually told to fight the contradictions. But I think we might be called to forgive the contradictions. To love the contradictions. Because the more I can embrace the contradictions inside of me, the more I can embrace the contradictions inside of you. And the more I can embrace the contradictions inside of you, the more I can embrace the contradictions inside of me.
And so the point is not so much that we are right. The point is not necessarily to solve the contradictions. The point is that you are loved. And in this love we find God’s glory.
You may have contradictions in your life. And that’s okay. Because
You are loved.
You are loved.
You are loved.
Let that love sink in.
And may we embrace that love and share it with one another now and forever. Amen.