A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. John 13:34
Today is Maundy Thursday, three days before Easter. The word Maundy comes from an old Latin word maundatum, which means commandment. It was the word in the Latin Vulgate translation of the New Testament which recorded Jesus words: “A new command I give you: Love one another” (John 13:34). And there you have it! You’re learned something new.
Down through the centuries, the church has associated the washing of feet with Jesus’ command to love each other, in that His words were part of the comments He made to the disciples in the Upper Room immediately after He took off His outer garments and washed the feet of the disciples.
There’s one thing for sure: We’ve long forgotten both what it means to really love each other, and to demonstrate the humility and security that love brings by being able to humbly wash each other’s feet.
In Jesus’ day and culture–where there were few Roman roads paved with stone–people walked on dirt roads. Puffy clouds of dust rose with every step. Obviously by the time you reached your destination, your feet were in need of a bath, so upon arrival, as a gesture of hospitality, your host would instruct servants to take a basin and wash your feet, drying them with a towel.
For a long while the kings of European countries would set the example, washing the feet of the faithful on Maundy Thursday. In England, servants known as “yeomen of the laundry” washed the feet of the poor while the king and queen watched, but eventually that custom went the way of loving people as Jesus also commanded. Actually Pope Pius IX, who died in 1878, was the last to wash feet on Maundy Thursday. (Source: World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 13, p. 250).
A young Jewish intellectual, trying to find out who he was and what life was all about in the turbulent 60s, took a backpack and began a journey that took him around much of the world. Arthur Katz was hitchhiking one day when a pickup truck stopped. “Throw your backpack in the bed and get in,” invited the driver. As Katz was riding with his benefactor, they began talking about the world and its problems. “Do you know what’s wrong with the world?” asked the driver. “No,” responded Katz, thinking, “It’s this guy’s truck and I don’t want to walk so I might as well sit here and listen to what he has to say.” The man looked at Katz and said, “We need to learn to wash each other’s feet!”
No, he hadn’t expected that, but it struck him forcibly and lodged in his thinking. Is love only words or can we learn to love as Jesus commanded His disciples in that Upper Room, before He went to the cross?
There’s one thing for sure, it’s powerful: Until we learn to love, really love each other, you can forget about stooping to wash your neighbor’s feet–whether it is translated “do the laundry for your sick mother, or give a gift to the family who lost a husband in a recent tragedy.” Acts of love, including the washing of feet– which has many faces today–will never take place until you really let God love people through you.
Jesus said, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, 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” (John 13:17). It’s still true.
May you have a blessed Maundy Thursday,