Maundy Thursday. It’s the Church’s remembrance of the last will and testament of Christ–the washing of others’ feet and the necessity of His cup and bread. ‘Maundy’ is Latin for ‘commandment,’ so today is supposed to be more than just a memory to examine. It is a call to action from the red letters, “For I gave you an example to that you should do as I did to you” John 13:15.
The idea of foot washing is foreign to us, unless you’re paying to get your toes painted pink. First Century Jerusalem was dirty and transportation was done on foot. By the end of a long day, the feet would be caked with wear and tear. Since dinner was eaten in a reclining position, a host would provide a courtesy wash for the members of his table. Foot washing was an unglamorous necessity and a duty performed by the lowest level house servant who had no other choice than to obey his master’s commands. Yet on this occasion, no servant was present. Who would take the initiative to do the dirty work?
Jesus washing dirty feet. The words don’t seem like they should all be in the same sentence together. They sound so undignified, so degrading. By this time in His life, the disciples had seen Him turn water into wine, heal the unheal-able, calm the storms, and feed the masses. While a complete understanding of who He was might still have been cloaked by their simplicity, they knew that whoever He was, He was in the category of greatness.
“Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands and He come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself. Then He poured water into the basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded” John 13:3-5.
Greatness bends. Love can’t adequately love from a lofty place. It lowers itself. It lays aside position, power, and preeminence. It resists pride’s inclinations. Love humbles itself to meet the needs of others.
The commandment is for us to do the same. “If I then, the Lord and Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” John 13:14.
No true disciple is exempt from the commandment. If we call Christ ‘Lord,’ we are going to take up the towel of His humility. Not in washing tables. Not in rallying the masses. Rather, in being humble in the relationships with those who sit around our table–the annoying, the inept, the mistake-prone, and yes, even the betrayers. The commandment calls us to the deeper places where real transformation takes place–for both the servant and the served.
This last commandment of Jesus reminds us people are messy. Often, their feet isn’t all that stinks. They are going to need frequent cleaning up. You are going to have to gird yourself for a lot of dirty work. “Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him” John 13:16.
Who is “around your table” who needs to be transformed by your humility? Don’t deceive yourself, there is someone and the command is for you to wash their feet. I know. They probably are difficult, and prickly, and easier left alone. Pick up your towel today. Don’t wait! Bend and serve them. True greatness bends.
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” Matthew 20:25-28.