I Don’t Got This: Maundy Thursday Thoughts
Today is Maundy Thursday, so called for the Latin word for commandment, mandatum. In the relevant biblical story, Jesus at the Last Supper in the Gospel of John (John, Chapter 13) says to the disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (13: 34)
Prior to saying that, Jesus demonstrated it. He signed his love for his disciples. He rose from the table, wrapped a towel around his waist, poured water into a bowl, and began washing his disciples’s feet.
But Peter, when it was his turn would have none of it. To Jesus, disciple Numero Uno said, “You will never wash my feet!” You get the feeling that Peter would be happy to wash Jesus’ feet, but not the other way around. What’s up?
When someone says to you, “Need help?” how often do you reply, “No thanks, I got this!” And sometimes you do “got it,” but maybe there’s something else going on too. It’s hard, at least for some of us, to let others help us. We’re fine with helping others, doing for them, but sitting down and letting someone do for us? Not so much.
Peter is so many of us. Eager to serve, to do, to take the lead. Not so comfortable receiving, being a recipient, letting another do for us. “No, nothing for you to do, just make yourself comfortable, while I go full-Martha.” (cf. Luke 10: 38 – 42).
But what Jesus says to Peter is this: “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Or “no part in me” in other translations. To which Peter then stammers, “Well, then, wash me all over.” Actually, he says, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head.”
We have heard many times, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Truth in that for sure. God does indeed love a cheerful giver. But maybe we’ve let such truths obscure another. That we are also called to receive. Sometimes at least we are generous givers but impoverished receivers.
We excuse our discomfort, awkwardness, reluctance in being on the receiving end. Can you receive a compliment without discounting or denying it? Can we receive the meal someone has prepared us without feeling that have to clear the table and wash the dishes? Receive the suggestions of another about how to go about something or solve a problem? To let someone hug us or hold us or comfort us?
Often times the way the Maundy Thursday story of the foot washing has been interpreted, or preached, is along these lines. Look how humble Jesus is. Let us also be humble. Look how he has served. So, follow his example and serve others. Okay, I get that. But have we really — first — allowed Jesus to serve us, to wait upon us, to kneel at our feet and wash away the grim as his blood washes away our sin?
I like the phrase, “Salvation is all about grace; ethics is all about gratitude.” In this story, grace is Jesus washing their/ our feet. It precedes the grateful response, ethics, of serving others. In the Christian life, we do not do stuff like giving and serving in order to show God or our neighbors just how righteous we are. Because we aren’t righteous, not really, not on our own. In the Christian life, we are first, and last, receivers of grace, recipients of the costly grace poured out in the life and death of God’s Son, who has loved us and given himself to us.
When we have been receivers of grace, we may then in a position — just maybe — to serve, to share grace with others without needing their thanks or recognition.
Maundy Thursday’s message isn’t, “You should be tireless and humble servants for all humans in need, just like Jesus.” It is this: the Son of God, Jesus, has served, forgiven, washed us because we stand in such desperate need of all of that. Receiving his mercy and grace, we may so be God-equipped to serve, to care, to share — and to love — others.
A blessed Maundy Thursday to you.