If any of you wants to be great, he must be your servant. If any of you wants to be first, he must be the slave of all. That’s how it is with the son of man: he didn’t come to have servants obey him, but to be a servant – and to give his life as “a ransom for many.” [Matthew 20:26b-28 (NTE)]
When my coed grand arrived in Florida last December, she wanted to celebrate going from boots to sandals with a pedicure. Although I enjoyed the comfy chair with its rolling massage, the warm whirlpool bathing my feet, the technician massaging the knots in my feet and calves, the exfoliating and buffing, and having someone else clip and paint my nails, I was incredibly uncomfortable with the whole thing (which is why I usually do my own pedicures). Even though I’d scrubbed my feet before arriving, was paying for the service, and liked being pampered, having someone wash my feet and tend to my toes seemed too intimate for me. I felt awkward being served in such a personal way.
My discomfort brought to mind that of the disciples on that Thursday evening so long ago when Jesus washed their feet in the upper room. Unlike mine, the men’s feet were filthy from walking sockless in sandals along unpaved dirt roads littered with animal waste, garbage, and the contents of people’s chamber pots. While the washing of feet was usually the job of the lowest servant, if no servant was present, people usually washed their own feet. Luke tells us the disciples argued that night about who would have the most prestige in the Kingdom. Perhaps it was then that Jesus, their rabbi, the guest of honor, and truly the greatest among them, removed his robe and, dressed like a slave, took on the menial task of washing their filthy feet—a task none of them were doing for themselves, one another, or Him.
If I’m uncomfortable with a pedicure, I can only imagine the discomfort of the disciples as their teacher humbly knelt before them, bathed their filthy calloused feet in the basin, and dried them with the towel at his waist. Not wanting to see his teacher perform such a menial task, Peter even objected and then, in typical Peter manner, told Jesus to wash his hands and head as well!
Today is Maundy Thursday, a day Christians throughout the world remember Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, the breaking of bread and drinking of wine during their Passover supper, Judas’ betrayal, Jesus’ prayers in Gethsemane, His arrest in the garden, and Peter’s betrayal. While many Christians observe this day with the sacrament of Holy Communion, most have no idea how this day got its name. “Maundy” comes from the Latin maundatum for commandment; after being translated into the French mande it was anglicized into “maundy.” This day is named for the mandate or command Jesus gave to his disciples after performing His extraordinary act of humility by washing the men’s feet. This new commandment (maundatum novarum ) was to love one another as Jesus loved them.
Maundy Thursday is a day for more than remembering the Last Supper. It is a day to remember Jesus’ lesson that we must serve others in the same way He did: as a lowly servant who willingly served with humility and love. As He loved us, so we must love one another, not just today but every day.
Love consecrates the humblest act
and haloes mercy’s deeds;
it sheds a benediction sweet
and hallows human needs.
Love serves and willing stoops to serve;
what Christ in love so true
has freely done for one and all,
let us now gladly do!
[“Love Consecrates the Humblest Act” (Silas B. McManus)]