John 13:1-17, 31b-35
They’ll know we are Christians by our love
The word Maundy comes from the Latin “mandatum,” which means “commandment.” The tradition is based on Jesus’ command in John 13:34: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
The command to love one another is easy to read and often quoted. But what does it look like to love one another?
In Philippians 2:5-8, Paul points out the love of Jesus as demonstrated in the incarnation. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 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, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.
In biblical studies this passage is known as the kenosis passage. Kenosis literally means “the act of emptying”. In these verses Paul is describing the “self-emptying” of Jesus’ own will and becoming entirely obedient to God’s divine will.
The command to love one another is the most more difficult requirement in all of scripture. To love one another is to empty ourselves of our own needs and desires and seek only the very best for the ones we serve. It is to accept the most menial of all jobs, not because the job is fulfilling, but because we genuinely love the one, we are serving.
In the act of washing the disciples’ feet Jesus offered a tangible demonstration of the self-emptying that is required of a servant leader. Foot washing was the role of a servant, not a rabbi. Jesus willingly emptied himself of his deity to become a human being and showed his love by doing the servant’s task.
There is something poignant in the image of God’s Son washing the feet of fishermen and tax gatherers. The prologue of John’s Gospel reminds us that Jesus is the living Word who was with God in the beginning of creation. Yet, here just a few short hours before his death, God’s Son stripped off his robe and assumed the role of servant.
When he had completed the task, he declared: 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. (13-15).
Over the course of time many in the church have come to ignore the practice of foot washing. What we cannot ignore is the command of Jesus to practice servanthood. Regardless of our stature, education, or gifts we are called as disciples to live out the image of Jesus in serving others. Jesus did not say, “if you have time” or “if it’s convenient”. Rather, he was quite clear. “I have shown you what you are to do-now do it!”
The challenge for each of us going forward is to be open to opportunities for service in our homes, churches, places of employment, and leisure activities. If we are committed to discipleship, we are committed to service to others.
Thank you, Jesus, for washing dirty feet. Forgive me Lord, the times I make excuses and whine and complain about the tasks set before me. Remind me often that the command is to love one another. The response is to serve one another. Amen.