"Do not let your hearts be troubled." Jesus told his disciples as they sat at the table. "Believe in God, believe also in me."
Do not let your hearts be troubled. What could have been troubling the disciples that they should need to be comforted with these words, "do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe"?
Reading the events in John's Gospel, I see three things that could certainly cause the heart to be troubled. I see extravagant, undeserved love that does not observe the rules and I know such love can trouble the heart. Oh yes. You see, most of us are used to getting what we deserve. Nothing more and nothing less. Most of us are used to being loved in small portions and often with strings attached. So no wonder too much love, the kind of love that is extravagant and gives up its pride willingly and readily can be too much to handle. It can cause the heart to be suspicious. To be anxious. To be troubled. It is at such times the words of Jesus, "Let not your heart be troubled. Believe" offer us a way to betrayal.
I see also that betrayal from unexpected quarters can lead the heart to be troubled. The realization that we are not as courageous as we would wish to be can be trouble for the heart. Let's face it, there are extreme conditions and circumstances which can break our stubborn determination, shoot down our headstrong conviction and humble our zealous courage.
The disciples, ordinary men and women like you and me, sat at the table with Jesus and as the evening wore on they found themselves troubled three times over. Troubled by extravagant love that serves willingly. Troubled by betrayal from close quarters. Troubled by panic and denial under extreme conditions. It was an extraordinary meal. A meal that had begun like any other Passover meal but then it gradually became a meal to remember.
The first unusual trouble to the heart was when Jesus had taken a basin with water and a towel, and he got on his knees like a servant, a slave, and he had washed each of the disciples' feet and wiped them. One by one they had watched their Lord, teacher and master go around the table washing first the neighbor's feet then my feet. Jesus has chosen the lesser place at the table. He had chosen to be the servant among them.
It must have been rather disturbing. Not the foot-washing mind you. Foot-washing was standard procedure. Nothing extraordinary about foot-washing in that time, in that place and in that setting. The extraordinary thing was not the what, but the who. Jesus had turned an ordinary event, day to day, often an invisible event which nobody paid particular attention to, into something. extraordinary. Jesus was supposed to have his feet washed. That was the expected code of behavior. But here look! Jesus, the master, the leader, the teacher, the rabbi, the host himself had gotten on his knees and he was choosing the lesser place at the table. He was on his knees doing the work of a servant. Washing the feet of his disciples.
I imagine the disciples were bewildered, yes perhaps even unsettled, anxious and suspicious of this Lord who does not lord over them but instead he serves them, serves them with extravagant grace that chooses to leave the head of the table and instead attend to details usually entrusted to servants. This master is unlike other masters because he does not spend his time bidding the disciples do this, do that, until they are so bone-tired and stressed out from all the doing they cannot simply enjoy being. No, no, no this master is different. It is he himself who gets on his knees and attends to his disciples' tired feet, refreshes them with water in a basin and gently wipes each foot with a towel.
So unexpected. So embarrassing. So extravagant. Can you see the disciples baffled, bewildered, glancing at each other anxiously wondering how on earth they should behave when such a surprise occurs. How does one believe in such circumstances? How does one react to God's undeserved extravagant kindness?
Unexpected, undeserved goodness can be so troubling! No wonder Jesus says to them: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me." In other words, do not let your hearts be unsettled by God's goodness to you; do not let your hearts be suspicious when God unexpectedly and surprisingly showers you with unconditional love and mercy and undeserved surprises. Do not let your hearts be troubled but instead, believe in God and look to Jesus. See, Jesus models for us how to live with each other; how to willingly choose to extravagantly serve the other, not because we have to, but precisely because we don't have to, because we are not expected to.
Well, later that evening things go even more troubling for the disciples. You see, as they were eating Jesus announced that among them in that intimate circle, one among them would betray him. Shocking news. Betrayal! Not just betrayal but the traitor was not some faceless, nameless stranger in the crowd. The traitor was someone at the table. Someone whom Jesus had called by name saying "come follow me." Someone who had worked with Jesus for the blind to see, the lame to walk, the oppressed liberated. Someone whom Jesus had washed his feet. Someone so close and intimate to Jesus. Look! He dips a piece of bread in the same dish. The traitor is among us. Is it? Is it I? As each disciple looked to the other we see a movement in the circle; one of the disciples gets up; he leaves the table; without a word he goes into the dark night perhaps slamming the door behind him. What does it mean? Something is not right. Something has gone wrong. Some of the disciples do not comprehend. Some of the disciples think that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, "Buy what we need for the festival;" or, that he should give something to the poor." It is beyond comprehension that someone that was trusted could break that trust. The mood around the table must have changed. Things don't look good. There is a sense of something gone wrong and not quite sure what. The kind of feeling of dread one gets at the doctor's office waiting to re-take some test or other; not sure what it could be and why you need to retake it; something's wrong. There is a premonition that something's not quite right. Those are the circumstances under which Jesus tells his disciples. "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me." In other words, do not be intimidated when things go wrong. Do not let the premonition of things going wrong intimidate you. During such times, put your faith in God and trust Jesus who tells us that the commandment is simply this: love one another.
Later in the evening, more trouble. Simon Peter had publicly vowed his loyalty to Jesus; vowing that he would lay his life down for Jesus. Peter had declared that he was willing to follow Jesus no matter where the path might lead. Peter had taken the admirable route to conquer trouble with determination, passion and enthusiasm. Surely, we would say, the way to cut through troubling moments is to take a stand and take a public vow. Who does not admire determination in the face of tragedy? Always keep a stiff upper lip, the principal of our high school used to say. Well, Peter, guess what. There are situations which even sheer determination cannot conquer. Jesus turned to Peter and says, "Peter, Peter, Peter, in a few hours things will be so bad that you will deny me not once, not twice, but three times before the cock crows. The dawn breaks and the night ends. You see, Peter, there are situations which our sheer determination can not conquer. There are circumstances which our loyalty can not see us through. Our good intentions can be overrun by certain state of affairs. There are predicaments bigger than all the resources we've ever thought we had. It is under such circumstances that Jesus tells his disciples "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me." In other words, do not be stirred up and thrown into confusion with panic. Do not let the powers that be terrify you. During such times, put your faith in God and trust Jesus who tells us that in God's house there are many dwelling places. Room enough for all!
O God, calm our easily troubled hearts in the knowledge that there is enough for even us in your Kingdom. Amen.