Devotional for Maundy Thursday: April 9, 2020
Then [Jesus] poured water into a basin and began to wash the feet of the disciples, drying them with his apron. When he got to Simon Peter, Peter said, "Master, you wash my feet?"
Jesus answered, "You don't understand now what I'm doing, but it will be clear enough to you later."
Peter persisted, "You're not going to wash my feet - ever!" Jesus said, "If I don't wash you, you can't be part of what I'm doing."
"Master!" said Peter. "Not only my feet, then. Wash my hands! Wash my head!"
Jesus said, "If you've had a bath in the morning, you only need your feet washed now, and you're clean from head to toe. My concern, you understand, is holiness, not hygiene. So now you're clean. But not every one of you."
So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other's feet. I've laid down a pattern for you. What I've done, you do.
John 13: 5-10, 14-15 The Message
Today is Maundy Thursday. The Jewish festival of Passover celebrates God bringing the Jews out of Egypt, under the leadership of Moses. This meal had been observed for centuries. Jesus knew the original intent or meaning of the Jewish Passover. Yet He desired to change things up, by re-interpreting the meal in terms of Himself. In sharing the Hebrew Passover meal with his disciples, Jesus instituted the Lord’s supper, or communion, for the very first time. That was far from the only deviation from the well-known script for Passover made that night.
Jesus also washed the feet of His disciples. In our world of clean streets and sturdy footwear, we might not think that this was a significant gesture. We need to realize that in Jesus' time, this was a duty only performed by servants. The streets were dusty, and dirty, and there was no sewer system. Animals walked down the same streets, and they were not necessarily taken aside when they did what animals do! Also, most footwear was sandals! Foot washing was a necessity upon entering a home. It was not done by the host. Jesus was the host of this Passover meal. Yet He willingly and humbly washed the feet of all of His disciples. Through His own example, He showed them how they should treat others.
Leadership with a servant heart gets noticed. Recently, someone posted a picture on Facebook of John Bon Jovi, a rock star from New Jersey who owns a restaurant. This picture was not a picture of the tables where the famous patrons would be served. No, it was a picture taken in the kitchen. There, a man with an apron on was operating the commercial dishwashing machine. According to the caption, the man was Jon Bon Jovi. Apparently, the regular employee who was supposed to operate the machine didn’t show up that day, so this famous rock star ended up washing dishes. Washing dishes is one of the most basic jobs in a restaurant, and is usually considered an entry-level position.
We don't necessarily need to wash feet in these times, but washing hands is something we have always been taught to do. Children in elementary schools are taught to wash their hands after they use the restroom. They line up to wash their hands before they go to lunch. These days, the emphasis on washing hands is imperative to keep us safe, and to prevent the spread of disease.
Jesus demonstrates what having a servant heart looks like. He does so by offering his disciples a vivid living example of serving. While the role was well understood, it was shocking to the disciples to have their master, and their host, serve them. What does being a servant look like today? Today we see acts of servanthood in many places. On the news, we are seeing medical personnel, first responders and many others, placing other’s lives above their own. Serving is taking time from our own schedules, to help someone else, with no thought of being paid back. Giving someone a ride, picking up groceries, serving as a church officer, leading a bible study, or taking someone a meal: all are kinds of acts of servanthood. Locally, we have The Lighthouse Ministry, Serve Wenatchee, the Red Cross, and other opportunities to offer ourselves in service. Serving is humbling ourselves, and showing respect for others. When we serve, it shows the kindness that Jesus taught us. Yet it also helps us to grow in the ways Jesus wants us to grow, as we gain experience in loving one another.
Jesus’ striking demonstration of servanthood in action stayed with the disciples, and it should strike a chord with us as well. God in the flesh, washing feet! It boggles the mind! Yet Jesus demanded that we serve one another. In fact, the word “Maundy” comes from a Latin word meaning “command.”
On this Maundy Thursday, may we make a commitment to act as servants to our brothers and sisters, whenever and wherever we have the opportunity. May we find the strength to be humble for the Lord. Let us follow His example, for He served us. In world where people are stressed, and sometimes selfish, our servant hearts are needed now, more than ever…
The focus in our consumer-oriented society is upon being served. Yet You call us to serve others, even if it means humbling ourselves, and doing work others do not want to do. May we not seek to be served, but rather to serve. Guide us into paths of service, especially on this Holy Thursday, but also each and every day. We pray this prayer in the name of the one who came to serve, and to give up His life as a ransom for many, Jesus Christ. Amen.