Maundy Thursday, April 9, 2020
Text: John 13:1-11, 31-35
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, 3 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, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 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. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” 8 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.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
John’s gospel takes us essentially straight from Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday straight to the Last Supper on Thursday. It is important to understand that John is not intending to suggest that nothing of interest happened in the missing three days in between. Not only do the other three gospels help to fill in many of those details, and John informs us in the last line of his account that there was so much more things that Jesus did and said that not even the whole world could contain all of the books that could be written . Instead, having the benefit of writing his gospel much later and knowing what had already been written about Jesus, John brings his audience with him into the inner circle, sharing some of the most intimate details of Jesus’ final hours.
Jesus made plans for Himself and his disciples to share the Feast of Passover in a borrowed upper room. Having already proclaiming that His hour was now here, Jesus loved the disciples “to the end.” The word for “end” in the original Greek language is the same word that Jesus uses on the cross as He breathes His last. Along with marking the culmination of a period of time, the word carries with it an understanding of fullness: Jesus loved them fully, completely, to the uttermost. The thirteen men arrived in the room and reclined at the low table to enjoy a meal that only Jesus and Judas understood to be their last all together.
Prior to supper, Judas had already made a deal with the chief priests and Pharisees to hand Jesus over to them for the price of 30 pieces of silver, which in Exodus 21:32 is the price given to a master for the restitution of a slave accidentally killed. Although Jesus was daily preaching and teaching in plain sight, in an attempt to not spark a riot which would surely draw the attention of the Romans, Jesus’ opponents sought help to find an opportune time when Jesus would not be surrounded by throngs of people.
With full knowledge of all that would be required of Him over the next 16 hours, Jesus left His rightful place of honor at the table, grab the wash basin and towel which had been set at the entrance of the room for the purpose of washing feet. Traveling first century unpaved roads by only sandal-shod feet meant the dinner guests would be coated with dust and grime which would, at the least, make for an uncomfortable evening. While the host of a meal would customarily make arrangements for the feet of his guests to be washed upon entering the home, it was unthinkable for him to undergo the task himself. In fact, we find in the Midrash, an ancient commentary to the Hebrew scriptures, that it was illegal to demand a Jewish slave perform such a demeaning task. In the absence of a servant, the role of foot-washer should have hastily been assumed by any of the disciples, but none was willing to voluntarily place themselves in the position of servant of his peers.
Stooping before each of the twelve disciples, the Teacher now bore the full markings of a slave: having discarded both His outer garment and inner tunic, He wore only a loin cloth and long towel wrapped around His waist with which He gently and attentively washed and dried the feet of His students. As disgraceful as it would have been to wash the feet of equals, it was unconscionable to allow their clear superior to so Humiliate himself. The disciples sat dumbstruck in disbelief until Jesus came to Peter. Never one to hold his tongue, Peter could never allow such a shameful act to occur. Peter vocalized what everyone else was thinking, “Why are YOU washing MY feet? This should be the other way around?” We might add that, just as John the Baptist had objected years prior, in reality Peter was not worthy to even untie Jesus’ sandals.
Jesus gently, yet firmly, replied that Peter could have no place in fellowship with Him unless He cleansed His feet. In his typical ignorant fashion, Peter then demanded a full-body cleansing, presumably so that he could be the cleanest of the unclean. Jesus helps Peter understand that they all, except one, have already been cleansed. This minor inclusion serves as a subtle reminder to us that Jesus denigrated Himself even to the point of knowingly serving His betrayer.
While none of the disciples could fathom what transpired, Jesus knew exactly what He was doing. In voluntarily taking the lowest form imaginable, Jesus was showing them not just how He would die, but how they were to live. ‘Maundy’ is derived from the same Latin word from which we get the English ‘mandate’, and this act of humility was now given as the preeminent law of the New Covenant, “love one another, just as I have loved you.” How did Jesus love? He loved to the end. Willingly taking the form of the lowest of servants, while we were yet His enemies, stooping down to meet us in our wretched filth, so that we could be cleansed of all unrighteousness through His cleansing work on our behalf.
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, We confess to you that we have failed to keep the perfect and beautiful example that You have given to us of loving one another. We easily tire and weary, and our thoughts are consumed much more of ourselves than they are of You or others. Help us to understand that You have done far more for us than you could ever ask of us. We pray that you would give us the power today, through Your Holy Spirit, to strengthen us to gladly follow in Your steps, that the world may know and believe in Your most perfect and excellent name. Amen.