Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself.
Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.” Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, “Not all of you are clean.”
So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? “You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. “For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. “Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
– John 13:1-17
Today is Maundy Thursday. As a kid I always thought church people were saying Monday Thursday which never made sense, but I didn’t question it because as a kid some things are so ridiculous there’s no way they’re made up.
The word Maundy is Latin meaning mandatum and a solid English translation would be command. Maundy Thursday points to this scene above where Jesus washes his disciples’ feet and the mandate he give them comes a few verses later, “A new commandment I give to you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By This all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – (John 13:34)
Love one another. This is Jesus’ new command. Love. And not just to love but to love as Jesus loved them. Love with the kind of love that lets a tax collector and thief learn about God before he’s prayed the prayer. Love with the kind of love that spends time with a four time Samaritan divorcé. Love with the kind of love that throws a party and invites the blind, crippled and homeless sex-workers who can give nothing back. Even love with the kind of love that shows mercy to a powerful and privileged Roman soldier.
And this command to love is not a final sermon of the guru Jesus to his star protégés. It doesn’t even do it justice to call this a command because Jesus is living his last day, he’s about to be murdered and he knows it. In the verses above we are witnessing Jesus’ dying wishes, his last words to his best friends and a sobering summary of everything he spent his life telling people about. Love one another. Wash their feet. Be to them as I have been to you. These are not just words among words but the clear, concise and holy utterances of man perched on the thin line between life and death. Love one another as I have love you.
And yet this is not always our way as Jesus followers. Love seems to be second or third chair to doctrine or scripture interpretation. We often put those who need this love through a vetting process to decide who God has approved for such a benefit and to what degree his coverage extends.
We want gay people to be straight and straight people to be pure and pure people to get off their ass and lead a bible study. We want transgender people to use the “right” bathroom, women to do the work of a pastor with the title of director. Historically we’ve wanted black people to sit in the balcony and now we want them in our fold-up chairs to boost our diversity rating.
Most broadly we want people (and ourselves) to be better than we are before coming to God, and I think it is for this very reason Jesus washes his disciples feet. We see Peter’s visceral reaction as Jesus bends down, “Never shall you wash my feet.” he says. Jesus responds, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” You see, it’s one thing to love a sinner and it’s another thing to wash his feet, because washing another’s feet forces us to see them as human and thus undeniably the same, bone of bone, flesh of flesh in need of God, in need of each other.
We can say we love someone all day but until we wash their feet we love them from a distance, as something other than us, as something other than human. Jesus washes his disciples feet and exposes their humanity and more importantly exposes his own. A day before Jesus is murdered his disciples still believe they will soon rule with him – they still look at Jesus and see someone greater then they and still look at themselves and see someone greater than everyone else. They still believe Jesus has come to establish a better system, a better structure, a better kingdom than Rome. They believe Jesus will make their Genesis 3 world a lot better but instead he throws the baby out with the bathwater, literally.
It’s risky to practice this kind of love. It strips us of our fig leaves and evaporates our hiding places and it does the same for our neighbors. It’s a better evangelism then the “insider/outsider” paradigm we’ve created. It’s a more effective discipleship than the nebulous ladder of self improvement we passively teach. To see and been seen as human takes us back to the garden, before sin before shame and it honorably discharges us from the our godlike rule we feel we must have over the world.
Love. Wash feet. Let others do the same for you, and see if a garden doesn’t spring up.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.