5 Action Words of Maundy Thursday

On Maundy Thursday, we remember the mandate (maundy means mandate) that Jesus gave to his disciples at the Last Supper.

“A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also must love one another.” (John 13:34)

The mandate is simple — love one another. However, the mandate is not easy. Because Jesus shows us that loving one another looks like washing feet.

This foot-washing scene in John 13:1-17 may be a passage you have read a lot. But would you hear the words with fresh ears as you read it today? Would you imagine the scene with fresh eyes?

It’s easy to read this foot-washing story and miss out on how shocking it is, especially if we are overly familiar with it.

Washing feet was a job for the lowest of the low – household servants. In washing His disciples’ feet,  Jesus is not only upending social hierarchy, but He is also showing that nothing is beneath Him. No act of service and humble love — no matter how menial — is beneath Jesus.

We live in a world where the powerful don’t get their hands dirty. The CEO of a business isn’t cleaning the bathrooms. The principal of the school isn’t taking out the trash.

God doesn’t wash people’s feet. Or so we think. When Jesus — God in the flesh — washes feet, He is reshaping our misguided assumptions about God. We tend to think God is too important, too busy, too powerful to be bothered with such things.

But Jesus shows us what God is really like. He is loving. He cares about the little things. He is humble. He is compassionate. He is a servant.

This is what God is like! And it’s what we can be like too. We are created in the image of God — meaning we were created by Him to be like Him.

When Jesus finished washing His disciples’ feet, He said: “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

Jesus is calling us to follow Him not just in the extravagant ways (signs and wonders, miracles, healings) but also small, humble ways.

So how do we cultivate the humble, foot-washing love of Jesus in our lives? This passage includes five action words describing the foot-washing scene that I think are packed with meaning:

“…he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet…”

Got up, took off, wrapped a towel, poured water, began to wash. Consider with me each of these actions.

Got up – Are we willing to be disrupted? Are we willing to “get up” from our work and busy schedule and move toward people in love? What would this look like for you?

Took off – Other translations say “laid aside”. The Greek used for Jesus’s “laying aside” his outer robe is the same Jesus used when speaking of himself as the Good Shepherd who “lays down” his life for his flock. Jesus is showing His disciples that He will willingly lay down His entire life for them and for all of us. What does it look like for you to lay aside your preferences or opinions for the sake of someone else?

Wrapped a towel – When Jesus wrapped a towel around His waist, He was taking up the tools of the trade of a servant. In Philippians 2, Paul reminds us that this wasn’t a one-time thing — Jesus took “the very nature of a servant.” What does it look like for you to serve others, especially those who cannot return the favor?

Poured water – When I read that Jesus poured water, I am reminded again of the Christ Hymn in Philippians 2. Verse 7 says Jesus “emptied Himself.” In taking on flesh, in healing others, in serving others, Jesus was pouring Himself out. How can we “pour out” our time, talent and treasure for the sake of others?

Began to wash – After pouring the water, Jesus began to wash His disciples’ dusty feet. He isn’t afraid of getting His hands a little dirty. This is a picture of Jesus’ entire ministry. Jesus isn’t above all the messiness and brokenness of our world. He isn’t distant. He is right in the middle of it all. Jesus is dirtied so we can be cleansed forever. May we never be afraid of the mess. Amen.

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