April 9, 2020, A Meditation for Maundy Thursday – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
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John 13:1-17, 31b-35
“Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.
“After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord–and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you… I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.””
We hear Jesus’s final words to the Twelve, those men who have traveled with him, worked and worshiped with him, who have sat at his feet, learning from him, for three years. And now he gives his final instructions to them, as he is about to leave his ministry in their hands. They have seen their Master heal the sick, cast out demons, multiply a little food to feed a multitude – even bring the dead back to life. He has even given them power and authority to do the kinds of works he did. They themselves, uneducated fishermen, despised tax collectors, the commonest of common people, laid hands on the sick and saw them become well again, commanded demons to be cast out, and they were cast out.
And now, on this final night with his disciples, Jesus gives his two parting instructions: a word, and an action. The word is this: love each other. Just as I have loved you, Jesus tells them, you love one another. That will be the sign to the world that you are my disciples and nobody else’s, when they see the love you have for one another, the kind of love that I have for you.
It was the action, though, that took the disciples by surprise. They saw no blaze of shining glory, as Peter and James and John had seen on the mountain top. Jesus did no great work of power. The simple Passover feast spread on the table before them didn’t suddenly become a banquet.
No, what happened was this: Jesus got up and took off his outer garments and wrapped a towel around his waist. Fetching a basin of water, he knelt down at the feet of one of his disciples and he began to wash his dirty feet, wiping them with the towel he had wrapped around his waist.
Peter, speaking on behalf of his companions as he was wont to do, was scandalized, and he didn’t hesitate to say so. “Not in a million years will I let you wash my feet like a common slave,” he said, or something very like that. But Jesus just kept right on washing. “Peter, my friend,” he said, “if I don’t wash your feet you have no share in this work of mine.”
When Jesus had washed the feet of every disciple – even the feet of Judas, who would betray him that very night – he looked at them all and said, “Do you understand now? I, your Lord and Master, have shown you what it means to follow me. Just as I have served you, you serve each other. If you belong to me, you will do as I have done.”
Those were not the marching orders any one of them expected. On that final day, no power, no glory, no impressive wisdom or exalted spirituality. The example of the Master is to wash dirty feet. The tool of a disciple of Jesus Christ is a towel. The place of a disciple of Jesus Christ is at the feet of our brother or sister. The quality of love that marks a disciple of our Lord is simple, humble service.
“Whoever would be great among you,” our Lord says, “must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came, not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”