Forming Faith Blog

In the Kitchen with Jesus (John 13)

When we promise to be like Jesus, sometimes we forget he was the one on his knees scrubbing the crud from between the disciples’ toes. 

Diego Velázquez (1599-1660), 'Kitchen Maid with the Supper at Emmaus', c.1617-1618.
Diego Velázquez (1599-1660), ‘Kitchen Maid with the Supper at Emmaus’, c.1617-1618. © National Gallery of Ireland.
The View from the Kitchen

I had a friend who was a pastor at a church near Nashville, TN. Within the congregation, a member was high school besties with a Big-Name-Country-Music-Star (hereafter referred to as BNCMS.). When the church began a capital campaign to raise funds for a new addition, the member decided to have a small dinner party for the top six donors (and their spouses) with the BNCMS and his spouse. Also, in the congregation, there was a young woman, a volunteer Sunday school teacher, who adored that particular BNCMS but had no hope of being one of the top donors. The member went to the woman and said, “We will always need help in the kitchen. If you want to help cook and serve, I’m sure we could arrange a chance for you to meet the BNCMS. The woman jumped at the opportunity.

The night of the dinner party arrives, and the top donors and spouses are sort of milling about chatting during the pre-supper drinks and hors d’oeuvres time. The church member looked around, and everyone seemed to be talking with the spouse of the BNCMS, but the BNCMS was nowhere to be found. Eventually, they were discovered hanging out in the kitchen, laughing with the help, dipping bread into the sauce, and sampling the food. The volunteer had the best seat in the house.

Asking the Scripture Questions

I was taught that if you genuinely wanted to get a message from a Scripture passage, then ask the passage questions. In the answer—lack thereof—you will find your sermon. (Example: What if the prodigal’s son had met his older brother first before meeting his father on the road home.). The are many books and articles about the Passover/Last Supper event. There are scholarly works drawing from Acts and Corinthians. There are common-sense questions such as if most families slept on the roof of their homes, how could you have an “upper room”? For our purposes, let’s stick with a straightforward question. Where did Jesus get the pan of water and the towel?

The Passover Meal was a big celebration. There were songs, stories, and crowded streets (imagining Time Square on New Year’s Eve). This was a big deal. For Jesus and the 12 to get a room was a huge coup. (Although some scholars link this story to Jesus sending two disciples into the city to score a space that would already be waiting.)

But let’s assume there is a kitchen. Women are fussing about with food and bowls and wine and cups.  There is a wonderful painting called, “Kitchen Maid with the Supper at Emmaus” by Diego Velázquez (1599-1660). You can see it at the top of this page. I love how the young woman is working in the kitchen with one ear pointing to what was going on in the upper room.

I imagine that at some point, a host would look in on the dinner party and be unable to find the rabbi. Where was he? Then the host wanders into the kitchen to find Jesus chatting with the servant girl or laughing with the cooks. Think of Jesus taking the pan of water from a servant girl’s hands. Throwing her towel over his shoulder and saying, “No, here, let me.”

In the Kitchen There Is Music

There’s an old quote from Emerson (honestly, I got it from an All in the Family rerun.) “Every man is my superior in that I may learn from him.” Every single person on this rock has something to teach you. Intelligence is learning your lessons. Wisdom is knowing those lessons can come from anywhere.

This is where Jesus lays out the plan. As if the disciples hadn’t got the idea by now. Wash each other’s feet. In Ephesians 5, Paul begins the famous passage with “Be subject to one another.”

We are a nation divided these days. Twenty-four hours a day, you can turn on your TV, log into the inter-tubes, or simply turn on your phone and find a gluttony of partisan hackery. People standing on either side of one line screaming at the top of their lungs the other side is wrong. How do we stop that? Be subject to one another. Wash each other’s feet. Leave the party and go hang out in the kitchen.

We just passed the major holidays of the Christian faith and are heading into another biggie. When you gathered together the last time, how often did you find yourself migrating to the kitchen? Hungry? Maybe but more than likely, it was because that’s where the voices were. That’s where the fun was happening. 

Jesus knew this was more than kneeling and washing someone’s feet. He says, “wash each other’s feet.” Sometimes you sit in the chair and let someone be subject to you. To borrow yet another old phrase, “The rising tide lifts all boats.”

Chaos in the Kitchen

A seventeenth-century monk named Brother Lawrence wrote about how he often felt closer to God in the chaos of the monastery kitchen than he did praying in the sanctuary. “Lord of all pots and pans and things, make me a saint by getting meals and washing up the plates.”

This is not just about making sure you belong to a church that takes a turn at the homeless shelter kitchen or holds a monthly food drive. This is about choosing to live a life subject to the other. Our lives are a collection of shared moments.

A friend recently told me that the difference between atheists and Christians is this: Both just wander around in the dark, but the Christians pretend they found something. I disagree. We all may be wandering around in the dark, but the Christians are the ones who hold hands.

Be subject to each other. 

May you find your way to the kitchen.

Steve Case

Steve Case is a 30+ year youth ministry veteran. He’s written books reimagining the words of a 17th Century monk as well as three books of biblical Dad-jokes. His latest book is called F**k Death. It’s a hard-core guide to grieving for those who are sick of pity and condolences.

Free Resource

During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: Sept 12 to June 5), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download the activity “Foot Mural” from our Living the Word: Kids (3rd-6th, NL) curriculum which can be used with many ages in many contexts!

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