This is the reading and message from today’s Maundy Thursday Service at the Gentle Shepherd. Today’s reading is from the Jerusalem Bible version of the Gospel of John, Chapter 13, verses 1 to 15:
“It was before the festival of the Passover, and Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to pass from this world to the Father. He had always loved those who were his in the world, but now he showed how perfect his love was. They were at supper, and the devil had already put it into the mind of Judas Iscariot son of Simon, to betray him. Jesus knew that the Father had put everything into his hands, and that he had come from God and was returning to God, and he got up from table, removed his outer garment and, taking a towel, wrapped it round his waist; he then poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel he was wearing. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘At the moment you do not know what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ ‘Never!’ said Peter ‘You shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus replied, ‘If I do not wash you, you can have nothing in common with me.’ ‘Then, Lord,’ said Simon Peter ‘not only my feet, but my hands and my head as well!’ Jesus said, ‘No one who has taken a bath needs washing, he is clean all over. You too are clean, though not all of you are.’ He knew who was going to betray him, that was why he said, ‘though not all of you are.’ When he had washed their feet and put on his clothes again he went back to the table. ‘Do you understand’ he said ‘what I have done to you? You call me Master and Lord, and rightly; so I am. If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.’” This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Today’s passage shows the true compassion of Christ. He comforts his friends and prepares them to love as he has loved. Jesus chooses to model that love through a simple, humble act of service through the washing of feet. This is an act of radical self-giving, love that is poured out from God to humanity. In this, Jesus shows us the perfection of love, overturning society’s expectations about power just as the cross would overturn expectations of what our Lord and Savior should be.
Indeed, we have some insight as to how radical the foot washing was by examining Peter’s initial reaction to it. He rejects Jesus’ offer in the clearest possible fashion. How should it be that the Christ, who is fully human and fully Divine, should wash a disciple’s feet? Yet, Paul’s response invites us to consider our own response, if we were in his position. Would we be willing to let Jesus wash our feet, to serve us with such humility? For all of the ways in which we frail, finite creatures can fall short, it can be really hard for us to accept that we belong to Jesus. It can be really hard for us to accept that we are already clean. It can be really hard for us to accept that, through our faith in Him, God continues to cleanse the parts of ourselves that are neither clean nor holy. These are the parts that we would prefer to hide far away from the gaze of others, much less from the presence of God.
Yet such is the love of God for us that He sends His light into the impenetrable darkness of our world. Our God is too big to refrain from healing our individual brokenness. Just as the water washed clean the disciples’ feet, so God’s love washes clean our souls. As followers of Jesus, we must seek to do the same: to perform simple, radical acts of love that others might perceive to be shameful or humiliating. We are to love one another as Jesus has loved us. We are to prune the vines so that they bear more spiritual fruit. Amen and Amen.