All around the world, today commemorates what is called Maundy Thursday. Ironically enough, I just learned this week that the word “maundy” comes from the Latin word that means mandate. You and I have been making friends, or enemies, or maybe frenemies with mandates right about now.
I never knew what Maundy Thursday was until I met Jesus in my 20’s. This deeply significant day stops to pay attention to Jesus’ radical act of washing his disciples feet thousands of years ago. This moment has since sent ripple effects into our world and our lives in ways that we cannot measure, but in ways we can participate.
In John 13:1-17, we are told the famous story of the last supper. You know the one. We see it in velvet art prints, memes and Leonardo da Vinci’s famous work… Jesus at a long table where everyone sits on one side. This might be the best dinner party an introvert could ask for. The Bible describes what was going on with Jesus at this meal: ”Jesus knew that the hour had come for Him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, He now showed them the full extent of his love.”
Jesus had shown His love so many times before this moment…
Jesus showed love for the irreligious when He went postal in the temple because the religious people were taking up the only space that those who had traveled so far to get to God could be.
Jesus showed love for the condemned when He risked His life for the woman caught in the act of adultery.
Jesus showed His love for sinners risking His reputation as a “spiritual teacher” and trading it in for “friend of sinners and tax collectors, a glutton and a drunkard.”
Jesus showed His Love for Simon, seeing the Peter in him that he could not see in himself.
I could go on and on about all the ways our sweet Jesus showed love here. But the Bible says when He got out of his seat and left that one sided table, He “showed them the full extent of His love.” This wasn’t a sneak peek at love, this was Love in its fullest form. This was Love coming out on a Thursday fully naked and exposed, as vulnerable as can be walking into Friday. They were about to witness love in its fullest form and this moment was the beginning.
The Bible paints the picture “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power, and that He had come from God and was returning to God; so He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
Jesus knew that He had all power in this moment. He could defend Himself against any enemy. He could call forth chariots of fire. He could make a volcano burst. He could zap those about to arrest Him. He could slap some sense into the disciples. He could make people bow down and pledge their loyalty to Him. He could preach His very best sermon. But instead, He took off His robe and put a towel around His waist and started washing his disciples disgusting feet. Why would He do this?
Jesus also knew these disciples. He knew their waywardness, their misgivings, their shame, their idiocracy. He knew their present, their past and their future. He knew all the wayward, misguided, shameful idoitic things they’d ever done and would still do. Knowing they would be nitwits, knowing they were two timing cheaters, knowing they were amazing liars, knowing they would get dirty again and again and again, why would Jesus get down on His knees and bow before each one washing their feet? Shouldn’t they be washing His?
I can only imagine Him moving the basin and setting it beside Judas. Judas would betray Jesus for a few coins and a kiss in a few short hours. His plan to turn his back on Jesus was already set in motion. And Jesus knew that. But there Jesus was, gently wiping off Judas’ scum with His hands that tomorrow would be pierced by the nails that hung Him.Those pure hands caressed, cleaned and cared for Judas. And Judas let them.
Then Jesus came to Simon Peter. And Simon refused it. No part of him could allow such! Perhaps Simon Peter knew he didn’t deserve it. Perhaps he knew how many times he thought about ditching Jesus. Perhaps he knew he wasn’t as loyal as he made himself out to be. Perhaps he knew he had within him the great capacity to deny Jesus. All it took, after all, was Jesus losing his cool status with the powers that be and a mere teenage girl Peter didn’t even know, asking him what his affiliation was with this Jesus.
Jesus knew this too. And still He took the basin of warm water and cupped His hands to massage the feet of this brother who would betray him three times before the rooster would crow.
Jesus insisted saying to Simon Peter “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” I love Jesus’ call on our pride. It’s like Jesus dials up Pride and says “Oh hey! Yeah… if you can’t humble yourself for a half a second and own up to your dirty feet, the side effect of where you’ve traveled, the proof of your humanity, the need to be cleansed, the part of your inner shame that won’t let me touch you. If you won’t let me serve you…then you want no part of me.”
Ouch. We don’t like getting called on our pride. And we don’t like drawing attention to the dirt we carry from the road we’ve traveled. And we also don’t like acknowledging that we might actually need something from our Lord or anyone else for that matter. We don’t like the idea of Jesus serving us any more than we like the idea of others serving us.
I can do it, we think.
I don’t want my mess to get on you, we protect.
I should not burden you, we ‘should’ on ourselves.
I ought not to be served but serve, we safely identify.
But with Jesus, we know He knows us, like really, knows us. He knows why letting Him wash our dirty feet brings up shame. He knows where we traveled and we know He told us not to go there and yet, even still, He insists upon washing off the miles with grace. He knows the dirt and muck and where we picked it up and so do we. Letting Him touch it reminds us it’s there when all we want to do is pretend it’s not.
When Jesus had washed each one’s feet, He said “Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
Jesus loves you and I so much that He set an example that He knew would compel generation after generation of His people to serve others and that service would impact us personally and then propel us to follow His lead serving others.
Hospitals would be started in his name. Doctors and nurses would bring healing to others. Some would touch lepers in every generation, touching what no one else wanted to. They would bring dignity to the dying, help to the sick and hope to both.
People would care for the orphan and the widow following His lead and at one point I would feel like one and so might you. A woman named Mother Teresa would live with the poor, eat with the poor, serve the poor, and die with the poor. Men and women would say yes to callings that require a towel and a basin, not a ladder and a 401 K. Many would give up their rights for that of others. A king would have a dream and fight for that dream, leading by example, following the lead of his sacrificial King.
A family would take a teenager in. A couple would adopt a baby with no parents. Someone would bring you a meal. Another would take the coat off their back and put it on the back of a homeless man.
People would start the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, World Vision, Samaritan’s Purse, Compassion, Children’s Hunger Fund and on and on and on… A soup kitchen would start on the corner of Third and Elm. A mission would see a need and set up to meet that need. The Union Gospel Mission, The International Justice Mission… the mission you have yet to start.
The example of Jesus Christ lives on. It lives on to challenge infrastructures. It lives on to boggle the minds of politicians. It lives on and keeps poking at the Bride when she is wayward. It lives on in the Body using Its Hands and Feet and they serve every single day. They serve in schools and they serve at the grocery store. They serve in nursing homes and they serve as police officers. They serve as you and they serve as me every day that we decide to show up and be like Him. The example of Jesus is what is working on the battlefield right now day in and day out serving the sick. The example of Jesus is what feeds the homeless every night at the mission when you and I sit down at our tables for dinner. The example of Jesus is what lives on when we work for profit and then turn around and give that profit away to help others. The example of Jesus is what helped me find God. It’s what made me turn around and see how beautiful He is. It’s what makes any hustle worth hustling. The example of Jesus has had a ripple effect that sent waves into our lives and can now use our lives to send waves of love into others.
We know Jesus set for us not only an example of service, but even more, sacrifice.
Jesus knew where He was going…In fact, He chose it. The cross would be the ultimate act of service and sacrifice to show those who forgot they were loved the full extent of how much He loves us…Those who are sinners and drunkards, gluttons and tax collectors. Those who traveled long and hard to get to God. Those who are condemned and self condemned. Those who have the great capacity to walk from this “Christian” thing. Jesus wanted us to know that He loves us with such a magnificent love that He in all His majesty and authority would be willing to serve us one day and sacrifice us for us the next. When we truly grasp this kind of radical love, we can’t walk away from this Lord as dirty as our feet may get. Instead we become compelled. And we get to choose to take up Jesus’ example as a mandate placed upon our lives that we gladly accept, carrying His love and service into our world. And that will have ripple effects far beyond measure.