Maundy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter). Maundy comes from a Latin word for “command”. It refers to Jesus’ commandment to the disciples to “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34). Maundy Thursday also commemorates Jesus’ washing the disciples’ feet and the last supper He had with them.
Imagine with me, Jesus’ 12 disciples had walked on dusty roads most of the day gathering what they would need to celebrate one of the most important feasts of the Jewish calendar, The Feast of the Passover. The air was dry and the rays of the sun warm. They likely had high expectations for this trip into Jerusalem. The day before, crowds had greeted Jesus like a King waving palm branches and shouting, “‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’” (John 12:13).
The disciples expected a Messiah who would deliver them from the cruel Roman oppression they suffered under. They anticipated that as the crowds gathered to celebrate how God delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt, Jesus would reveal Himself as one powerful enough to overthrow Rome.
What happened as they gathered for the Feast could not have ever crossed their minds. Jesus knew his departure time was coming close. Before he faced his mock trial, beating and crucifixion, He wanted His closest friends to experience His sacrificial love. His words and actions around the table showed that “he loved them to the end”.
John records, “Jesus 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” (13:4-5). In Jewish culture, washing feet was one of the most demeaning tasks of the day. Only the lowest of the social classes (usually Gentile servants) washed feet.
It astonished the disciples to have a Jew, whom they considered their revered teacher, wash their feet. One author refers to the disciples being “shamefaced” as Jesus “reverses normal roles. His act of humility was stunning” to those present. To ensure His message was crystal clear, Jesus wrapped a towel around himself. This was the typical dress of a menial slave, a dress that was looked down upon in both Jewish and Gentile circles.
Doubtless when Jesus washed the disciple’s feet, he included the feet of Judas Iscariot; His ultimate betrayer. Jesus’ love knew no bounds. His love was lavish, intentional, intimate. Judas received the same treatment as the others because no one at the table “deserved” to be loved like Jesus loves.
If you were at the table, how would you have responded to Jesus’ display of affection? Would His profound act of unconventional kindness have left you introspective? feeling inadequate to repay such a gift? Or would you have hoped that the “dirty” parts of your soul are still within His reach? The Jesus Storybook Bible describes the love that Jesus gives as the “Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love of God.”
It was only after Jesus had showed the most selfless love the disciples had known up to that point that He commanded them to love one another. When we soak in the reality of the self-denying love of Jesus, it changes us. He gave us the command to love one another, knowing that He was also sending His Spirit to give us the power to do so.
Truly showing love to someone whom we deem undeserving takes humility. It means that we set our image aside and choose to love extravagantly with no expectations. Yet when we love like Jesus loves, it changes the recipient.
Anna was in the foster care system. Although her placement as a teenager was with a kind woman, she repeatedly pushed against her boundaries by disregarding curfew. Anna knew her foster mom waited up for her. But her heart was hard toward the woman. Honestly, it was hard toward everyone! But one memorable night, her hard heart softened. Like other nights, Anna’s foster mom waited up for her. Anna braced herself for a major confrontation. She had her justification for being late planned in her mind, although it was a lie. But that night, instead of scolding, the foster mom took Anna’s shoes off and washed her feet. They exchanged no harsh words. It was just a humble act of love. And Anna shared at her foster Mom’s funeral that she never came back to that house late again.
To love one another in our culture that promotes cancelling any voice we disagree with is to live differently. As we walk with Jesus commemorating His death and resurrection, He commands us to love one another. He left us His Spirit to empower us to love with His humility and grace.
What is Jesus’ invitation to you as you read of His foot washing love? Is it time to sit at the table and imagine His loving hands touching what other’s can’t see in your life? Do you sense a need for His “Never Giving Up Love” to flow through you to someone else? As we receive His never-ending love anew this season, may we be intentional to share His love with our world and in our communities.
By Laurie Besonen, Executive Director, Village Schools of the Bible