What’s New? (Maundy Thursday)-Rev. Deborah Dail
Scripture: John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Now 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. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 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. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
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? 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. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
What’s new? Tonight, I’m wondering what’s new about the New Commandment Jesus gives his disciples. “Love one another.” That’s actually an old commandment found in the Old Testament: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The disciples had been taught this in the synagogue. Jesus has already issued the command to love others before this night. Remember his encounter with the man who wanted to know how to inherit eternal life? The answer Jesus gave was love. Love is an old commandment. So, what’s new?
John tells us that on that first Maundy Thursday, Jesus was fully aware that the clock was ticking. He was a dead man walking. He had a few more things to say and do for his disciples before it happened.
In the middle of dinner Jesus did something out of the ordinary.
After the appetizer and first course, right in the middle of dinner, Jesus began to wash the disciples’ feet. Very strange. Very strange, indeed.
Normally a host would offer guests a basin and some water when they arrived at his home. The guests would wash their own feet. Or maybe a servant would wash their feet. But not the host and not during dinner. But, as we know, Jesus did not always hold to social norms. In the same way Jesus had emptied himself, taking on human flesh to live among humanity, Jesus took off his outer robe, put a towel around his waist, knelt at the feet of his disciples, and became a slave . . . washing the disciples’ feet.
John is determined to let us know that Judas is there. Yes, Judas, the one who is poised to betray Jesus into the hands of those who would arrest him that very night. “The devil had already put it into his heart.” But Jesus still washed Judas’s feet.
When Jesus got to Peter, Peter spoke up like he always did. The other disciples had apparently tried to act like Jesus was doing something normal. They gave each other strange looks, but they didn’t say anything. But not Peter. Peter tells Jesus in no uncertain terms: No thanks. “You will never wash my feet.” It’s as if Peter is saying: “I can take care of myself. I don’t need you to do this for me. I’ve got this.” You’re not my slave.
Jesus’ response is interesting: “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” “You can’t be a part of what I’m doing.”
It’s a tender gift this foot washing. It’s awkward. It’s undeserved. It’s embarrassing. It’s not as it should be. But, of course, this foot washing has deeper meaning.
For Peter and for us, Jesus comes insisting on pouring out the gift of his unconditional love on us. No, we can’t earn it. No, we can’t pay him back. No, we can’t leave a tip. We can only accept the outpouring of grace if we want to have a share in him, be in a relationship with him, follow him. This didn’t settle well with Peter. I’m not sure it settles well with us either. Later, Paul would remind us: “For it is by God’s grace that we have been saved through faith. It is not the result of our own efforts, but God’s gift, so that no one may boast about it.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) We’re still trying to fully understand this almost 2000 years later. We’re still trying to comprehend that Jesus emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, to cleanse us . . . to offer the gift of salvation.
Then Jesus tells his disciples that they are to wash the feet of others. No, not to earn his love. No, not to get brownie points. They are to wash the feet of others – no, not just people like them. No, not just those whom they judge to already have clean feet and pure hearts. No, not just for a public show. They were being called to pour out the love of Jesus, the mercy of Jesus, the grace of Jesus by serving other others.
Jesus says: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” I return to my original question: What’s new about this commandment to love? Perhaps it’s in the part which says: “Just as I have loved you . . . just as I have loved you . . . just as I will show my love for you on the cross that looms before me . . . just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
That is a bit different from “Love you neighbor as you love yourself.” Jesus knew then as he knows now that we don’t love ourselves as well as he loves us. Some of us do not love ourselves at all. So, is it any wonder we struggle with the true intent of the commandment “Love your neighbor as yourself”?
We can look at the downtrodden and say to ourselves: “If it were me, I’d expect to be ignored. I’d leave my lousy self there . . . in the gutter, in the detention center, in the homeless shelter, in jail. That’s what I’d deserve and so does she. I’d treat my lousy self with harsh judgment. My lousy self deserves what I get or don’t get. If I had screwed up as much as that person, I’d treat myself harshly, not with kindness. No wonder we struggle to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. So Jesus, in this New Commandment says “Just as I have loved you, so you are to love one another.”
That’s a new thing, isn’t it. Jesus washes our smelly feet without asking if we deserve it. Jesus washes our Judas feet. Jesus lifts us out of the gutter without a question about how we got there and why we haven’t gotten ourselves out. Jesus lifts us up without looking at the color of our skin, our criminal record, or the record or our sins we all somehow imagine is kept in a vault somewhere, our secrets, our ill-gotten gains, our meanness of spirit. Jesus just kneels down and loves us. Jesus just goes to Calvary to die for us because he loves us. That’s how Jesus loves us . . . better than we love ourselves. That’s what’s new in this New Commandment. Love others like Jesus loved us. Love others like Jesus continues to love us, surprising us with the abundant outpouring of his unconditional love and grace.
The New Commandment. Love people better than you love yourself. Love others . . . and YOURSELF . . . like Jesus loves others and like Jesus loves you. And you know what, Jesus says: This is how people will know you are my disciples . . . they’ll see you loving others like I love you.