by Dr. John Neihof
I watched in wide-eyed wonder as Jesus entered the room for Passover. I had seen him in the temple courts on a few occasions. Once, I even heard him teaching there. All of the talk had raged about him for three years. Now, I am face to face with this mysterious man who seemed to made children glad and Pharisees mad!
I had worked all day with my mother to prepare the room. One of Jesus’ followers had arranged our upstairs room for their Passover dinner. Mother was still in the kitchen when they arrived. My job was to set the table and serve the food.
The warm expression on His face gave the room a special glow as He entered. Jesus’ men milled about for a bit. They noticed the wash basin, but no one seemed interested in washing. I looked at them. Not too dirty, I suppose. Oh well. I had heard that these men were outdoors men and not always attentive to some details of the Law.
Hesitant, they seemed to be waiting on something. The men milled about in conversation. No one seemed ready to sit down on the dining couches. Suddenly, it dawned on me. I ran to Mother in the kitchen.
“Mother, Jesus and His men are here. They are waiting for a servant to wash their feet.”
Immediately, mother responded, “Never mind that now. I have something for you to do.”
Knowing better than to object to my mother’s assignment, I set about completing the task which she needed doing.
Once completed, the kitchen and serving duties began to accelerate. I forgot all about the men’s need of a servant to wash them.
My first delivery to the tables was the wine. I carried the carafe into the upper room where the men were dining. I was astonished. They were already seated at the table. The wash basin and towel appeared untouched.
I scurried back to the kitchen. “Mother, Jesus and His men did not wash for dinner!”
“Never mind that now” was mother’s familiar response to my urgent declaration.
“The bread,” mother directed, pointing her chin. Her hands were full with carving the lamb.
I turned to the bread and lifted it from its place on the counter I placed it in Mother’s favorite bread basket and headed to our upstairs room where the men were visiting. As I placed the bread basket upon the table near the wine, I sensed tension in the conversation. The men on the end of the table were talking about the washing. No one wanted to do it. I knew it needed done, but mother needed me more. I could delay no longer. I returned to the kitchen.
Mother was completing the final carving of the lamb. She had arranged the steaming meat upon a large platter. She wiped her hands with a towel, lifted the sagging platter from its rest and placed it in my waiting arms.
“Quickly,” she urged. “Serve the table.”
As I rounded the corner, and stepped to the doorway, the lamplight flickered in our upstairs gathering room. I paused, frozen in astonishment. Jesus had already risen from his seat. I watched as he untied the sash about his waist. He removed his coat and laid it aside. Twelve pairs of eyes, plus mine, were riveted upon Him. Wearing only His tunic, He stood by the washstand and poured water from the pitcher into the basin mother had prepared for washing. He wrapped the towel around His waist, tied it loosely, and lifted the basin. Then He turned to His disciples.
The twelve flinched almost as one at the realization of what their leader was about to do. My feet felt rooted to the floor. I stood behind the threshold of the doorway, watching the drama unfold. My arms ached with the weight of the platter of lamb. But I could not turn my eyes from the scene before me.
Jesus knelt first at one, then another. He tenderly released the latch string that held the sandals and bathed and dried each foot. The men were silent, embarrassed, ashamed. When Jesus came to a great big barrel-chested man, the voice from within the burly beard defiantly insisted, “Not me. Go to the next one.”
“You don’t understand what I am doing. If I don’t wash your feet, you cannot have any part with me. Someday I will explain it to you.”
Shattered bravado proclaimed the corruption of character as the man within the bushy beard blustered, “Then just give me a bath!”
“No, you already bathed. Just your feet.”
And Jesus washed his feet too.
As Jesus completed the washing and replaced the towel and basin, He spoke, “Not all of you are clean.”
The men looked at each other, questions etched their faces. What did He mean? He was often making mysterious statements that they did not understand. Shrugging their shoulders, they began to relax.
I felt life return to my numb legs. I crept across the room and placed the platter of lamb at Jesus’ place. He was just returning to his seat. He looked at me, a child, and smiled. Then Jesus reached his work-hardened hand across the wide table and tussled my hair. Teeth gleaming in a warm expression, He said, “Thanks, son,” and announced, “We’re ready to eat!”
I left the room to return to the kitchen. I heard Jesus begin to speak, so I paused in the dark shadows beyond the doorway, where moments earlier I had watched the foot washing unfold.
“Do you know what I have just done?” His voice stilled the chatter. “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (John 13:14-17 NKJV)
Embarrassed for spying, I hurried to Mother. We worked in silence in the kitchen. Throughout the evening, I could hear laughter and lively chatter from the gathering room. Mother soon prompted me to return to the gathering room and clear the table. As I came to the entrance, I again peered inside. The men appeared nearly finished with the meal.
Jesus spoke. His voice sounded sad. “One of you is going to betray me.”
The men looked around the table, shocked expressions on their bearded faces. The youngest looking fellow was leaning against Jesus. He turned to look Jesus squarely in the face. “Who is it?” he asked directly.
Jesus said, “The next one I feed.” Then he took a piece of Mother’s bread, and sopped the last drops of broth from the serving bowl. He handed it across the table to one of the men and tersely commanded, “Go. Do it.” The man immediately left the table and went out into the darkness.
Sensing a momentary pause, I entered the room and began clearing the table of plates. Jesus restrained me and asked me to leave the remaining bread along with his wine glass. My arms were already full with the plates of the 13 men. My shoulders ached as I carried the dishes to Mother in the kitchen. She sent me back to the gathering room to retrieve the serving bowls.
By now, I had learned to pause and observe the men, lest I interrupt something important, before entering the room. In the doorway, I again heard Jesus speak. “I will be with you just a bit longer, then I have to go. You cannot go with me. Love each other.”
The voice from within the bushy beard asked Jesus, “Where are you going?”
“You cannot come with me.”
“Why not? I will die for you if you need me to!”
Jesus turned to the bushy beard. “Will you really? Before morning you will deny me three times! But relax. I am going to Father’s house to get things ready for you. I am the only way to Father’s house. I am the truth and the life.”
The words were strange to me. The men looked at Jesus with interested ignorance. Blank looks on their faces revealed that they did not understand the mysterious words of the Teacher, but none of them admitted it.
Back in the kitchen with mother, I heard singing. I slipped back into the gathering room as the men were leaving. I heard them proclaim their destination as the Mount of Olives and the Gethsemane Garden. A prayer meeting, they said.
Sleep came fitfully. I tossed and turned until I awoke with a start around midnight. Mother was still sleeping. I immediately thought of Jesus, his men, and the prayer meeting. Concern and curiosity consumed me. I wrapped my bed sheet about my naked body and walked to the door of my Jerusalem home which led out onto the street. The night air was cool and moist. I stepped across the threshold and into the street.
I wound my way through the streets of Jerusalem. Now quiet and empty, they had thronged with Passover worshipers just a few hours earlier. I walked through the city gate and down the Kidron slope. Moving East, I found myself on the Mount of Olives. The shadowy shapes of ancient olive trees of a garden were in front of me. I slipped beneath their dark embrace. In the stillness, I listened for voices. Silence. I moved deeper into the garden named Gethsemane.
In the stillness, I saw some shapes I recognized as human. They were on the ground, sleeping. I hunkered beneath the old olive tree, waiting. A dark shape moved toward the sleeping men.
“Wake up.” I recognized Jesus’ voice immediately. “It’s time. They’re here.”
“My betrayer has come.”
Suddenly, torches illuminated the garden. Temple guard with stony faces surrounded Jesus’ disciple–the one Jesus gave the bread. Then the disciple kissed Jesus. The guards were on Him, yelling and cursing.
Torch wielding guards turned from Jesus to make a quick search of the garden. I heard running. I started to run too. I heard footsteps behind me. A burly temple guard was closing the gap. Suddenly, he reached for me. I could feel my bed sheet tear from my body and into his grasp. Naked, I fled into the night and to the security of my home.
Terror gripped my trembling form as I lay in my bed. The events of the night raced through my mind. Toward morning, I drifted into brief and fitful sleep, haunted by images of torches, temple guards, and the sound of pounding feet racing through a tangle of olive trees.
It was already light when I awoke from my slumber of terror. The sound of a crowd gathering in the street stirred me.
“Passover,” was my first thought.
I rose and clothed myself. I moved toward the front door. My eyes were momentarily blinded by the morning light. As my vision adjusted, my eyes confirmed what my ears heard. This was not a peaceful Passover crowd, rather a riotous mob crying “Crucify him.” The volume intensified as I stood frozen in the open door of my home.
Then I saw Him moving up the street. Bloody. Naked. Beaten beyond recognition. Jesus. Carrying a cross! Convicted? Crucified? At Passover?
As the throng moved past my house, I felt myself caught in its tide of motion. I knew the destination, Skull Hill–the place of crucifixion.
It was gory beyond description. I watched from afar. Hours earlier,I had served Mother’s Passover dinner to this kind, mystical man. What could He have done to deserve this execution reserved for the worst sub-human creatures?
Sabbath was lonely. Scary. Subdued.
The first day of the week dawned. My homeland sky was illuminated first with a dim glow followed by threads of light. As the sun rose in the heavens, brilliance captured the arrival of a new week.
It was afternoon when the man I recognized as “the beard” appeared at our home. He asked for mother In hushed, secretive tones he asked her about the gathering room. Arrangements made for a secret meeting that evening, “the beard” covered his head and slipped into the crowded Jerusalem streets.
At dusk, the group of men began to arrive at our house. The young one, the beard, others. Their expressions confused me. Then men looked confused. Their faces were stained with tears. Their eyes were puffy and swollen from weeping. Their voices were hushed and hoarse. Excitement, surprise, hope, and shattered grief co-mingled in voice and countenance.
Once they had gathered, mother asked me to serve them water to drink. I took the appointed pitcher and made my way to the doorway. I walked into the room and delivered water and glasses to the table. I was unnoticed as the men spoke energetically to each other. I turned and left the room. As I crossed the threshold on my return trip to mother, I heard a gasp, then silence. I paused, motionless.
Then I heard it. It was His voice.
“Peace to you.”
I turned to gaze through the open doorway. There He was. Unmistakable. It was Jesus. He was alive!
“Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.”
Hesitatingly at first, they touched Him. Then they laughed, embraced, and began talking rapidly. Jesus lifted His hands to slow their talk. His next words brought laughter. “I’m hungry! Do you have anything to eat?”
I popped my head through the open doorway. “I’ll get you something!”
The men roared with laughter at the exposed spy!
I raced to mother’s kitchen, grabbed a piece of broiled fish from dinner, and hurried back to Jesus. He ate it with gusto, and then he taught them.
“These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.”
“Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things. Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:44-48 NKJV).
Then he was gone, just as quickly as he had come. But His coming had forever changed me.