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Today is Maundy Thursday. I wondered what Maundy meant. Of course, I looked it up and it is from the Latin word mandatum (mandate) or the new commandment Jesus gave that we are to love one another. Interesting language isn’t it? It is a mandate, not an option.
In old English, maundy relates to foot washing. It is symbolic of our love for one another despite the fact that most places that practice this in their churches rarely do it on dirty feet…especially in the US. The point of washing feet, is that it is to be done on dirty feet and is an act of humility for both the giver and receiver of the foot washing. It is humbling to have your feet washed when they are dirty. It is also humbling to wash someone’s feet that are dirty and in need of washing.
Our mandate is to love each other, symbolized here by washing each others’ feet.
But to my main point. This was the last time Jesus met with His disciples as a group in the upper room. They went there to celebrate Passover. Many of the things they did that evening were part of Passover tradition. But some had a twist to them. Jesus point here was to emphasize how they were to treat each other. Serve each other as you love one another. He did it by example. He could hardly have given a more menial example. They walked in open sandals. Their feet were dirty! There was no getting around it. This was a job for the servant in the house with the lowest seniority.
Of course, Peter had trouble accepting it and Jesus made a teaching moment out of it as usual.
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.
Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?”
Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.”
Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”
When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place,
he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, 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 also should do just as I have done to you.
Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him…”
John 13:3-8, 12-16 ESV
There is no escaping that Jesus means for us to love each other and that the way we are to show that love is to serve each other. It is totally clear. There is no room for building our own church kingdoms, developing fancy castles, etc. There is nothing of that here. Jesus’ kingdom is all about humility, bringing glory to God, not ourselves; serving people, not building a name for ourselves.
That’s all very good, Lord, but who is going to be greatest in your Kingdom?
Isn’t it ironic that later that very night, after they had had their feet washed by Jesus and had shared this supper with Him, they got into an argument with each other about who was going to be the greatest in the Kingdom?! It would be funny if it weren’t so sad. But of course, we are just like them. True servanthood doesn’t come naturally to any of us.
A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.
And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them,
and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you.
Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.
Luke 22:24-26 ESV