by Dr. Linda Brupbacher
Most of us associate Thursday of Holy Week with the Lord’s Supper and Garden of Gethsemane events. However, neither of these is the reason for the “Maundy” label. “Maundy” comes from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the Latin phrase that is translated “A new commandment I give unto you that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34) After Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, He issued this new command (mandatum).
Walking dusty roads in sandals often resulted in really dirty feet. The custom was to provide foot washing water and towels just inside the entryway to a home. If slaves were available, the slave with the very lowest status was assigned the foot washing task. Even among slaves, this was considered a lowly, undesirable chore. However, that didn’t stop Jesus from washing the disciples’ feet.
Evidently the disciples didn’t wash their own feet as they entered the upper room–so sometime early that evening Jesus knelt and washed their feet. Scripture offers no indication of prior conversation about the need for clean feet or discussion about who would or should do the foot washing. Jesus simply noticed the need and acted to meet it. It was an act of humility and service. And, it clearly illustrated the new commandment: love each other as I have loved you.
This commandment is so consistent with Jesus’ life and with His other teachings that its label as “new” seems somewhat surprising. However, its content isn’t surprising at all. Jesus consistently advocated and modeled loving people.
Loving one another is one of those things that sounds simple– but isn’t always easy. Jesus cared, He noticed, and He acted—and we are expected to do likewise. How to actually do this is one of the challenges of Maundy Thursday and of everyday. Choosing whether or not to do this isn’t really presented as an option.
Help us follow Jesus’ model of humility and service—of truly loving others. Erase any self-centeredness, pride or fear that might keep us from doing this. Help us notice the needs of others and act to help meet those needs. Please give us humble, compassionate, servant hearts that compel us to live this commandment. Amen
Excerpted from a Holy Week Devotional Guide written for South Main Baptist Church in 2011