John 13: 13-17
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Jesus Washes the Disciples’ Feet
13 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. 2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table,[a] took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 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. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I 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, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet,[b] but is entirely clean. And you[c] are clean, though not all of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12 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? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants[d] are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
Today is Maundy Thursday. Have you ever wondered where the term Maundy came from? Most scholars agree that the English word Maundy was derived through Middle English and Old French mandé, from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos”. The very words of Jesus in the Gospel of John 13: 34, in which he said: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you”, by which Jesus explained to the Apostles the significance of his action of washing their feet.
There is indeed a strange mystery to the life of faith. Lots of paradox. This passage is a familiar one for it is always being read and revisited yearly as holy week comes. What strikes me most about this passage is the willful act of relinquishment Jesus did. Notice in verse 3, that, “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God…”, the very first act he did was to “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”. Wow!
If you were given power and tremendous amount of authority what would you do?
Jesus knowing that such absolute power was given him, the first act was one of subversion. He took the form of the slave. The narrative has resonance with an ancient hymnn quoted by the apostle Paul in Philippians 2: 6-7: “…who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…” Jesus clearly demonstrated that power is to be used in the service of others and not something to be exploited for ones personal gain or advancement.
Someone once said that absolute power corrupts absolutely. And history attests to this fact. The Church was not immune to this seduction to power. In fact history teaches us that the church is a poor handler of power. Some church historians noted that when the church is at its weakest, then it is storngest, but when it is at its strongest, then it is weakest. The Jesus we know in the gospels has repeatedly refused the way of power and often times put such power in check. This is meekness personified.
The grace of relinquishment and emptying is a blessing most people don’t seek. Jesus is clear in this narrative that true blessing is not the blessing of fullness, but is found in emptiness. This idea runs counter to our dominant values where the idea of gain and plenty are celebrated. Individuals in society has the idea of self-advancement, self-promotion, self-fulfillment and self-gratification. Even in our churches, success is measured by the gains and plentiful things acquired. Growth in numbers, big buildings, financial giving, the latest state of the art facilities and high-tech equipment. The church also has actually become the biggest provider of spiritual goods and services catering to a widely “spiritual consumer” audience. This could be one reason why the gospel of prosperity is largely patronized. It’s all about personal gain and plenty. The church has spawned a culture of “spiritual consumerism”.
Mother Teresa reminds us that emptiness is a great grace. She said: “If your heart is full of other things you cannot hear the voice of God.” Emptiness here is not about resignation or passivity. It has nothing to do with trying to enter a void or nothingness. It simply means learning the art of willful and active relinquishment of our power. It is making room for the service of others. It is about what the Apostle Paul says in Philippians 2:3-4, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”
Jesus gave us the example. He came not to be served but to serve. Humble service and giving away your life in the service to others is the greatest expression of love. Maundy Thursday reminds us of that love. We are to give love to others the way we have recieved love from Jesus. This is the Mandatum, the New Commandment. This will find its embodiment as the church goes out to wash the feet of the world. Not from the standpoint of power but from the posture of a lowly servant.
A meanigful Maunday Thursday to you all!