Devotional Word for Thursday, April 9, 2020
This is Thursday of Holy Week. It is called Maundy Thursday. Why? The Latin word for commandment is mandatum. We hear there the root word for a reality we’re all living with now: a mandate to Shelter in Place. So mandatum becomes Maundy – commandment – Thursday. It was on Thursday of Holy Week that Jesus spoke the new commandment to love one another. He gave this mandatum during the Last Supper. He demonstrated the essence of the commandment when He washed the disciples’ feet during that meal.
Here’s how John in his gospel explains it: Jesus, knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. . . . knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, [Jesus] got up from supper and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel . . . He began to wash the disciples’ feet. [John 13:1,4-5]
Can we receive the love of Jesus? Will you let Him wash your feet? We’ve had foot washing services before. They always were the least well attended service of the year. Why? Because no one wants others to see or wash their feet. Peter was that way when Jesus came to wash his feet. Peter said to Jesus, “Never shall You wash my feet!” [John 13:8] What a great categorical statement!
Jesus calmly replied to Peter, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” [John 13:8] That was another categorical statement! It brought Peter up short, and he goes to the exact other extreme: “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” [John 13:9] Peter, like many of us, was afflicted with what Martin Luther called Drunken German Peasant Syndrome. That’s when the inebriated peasant first falls off one side of the donkey but gets back up and promptly falls off the other side of the donkey!
Jesus provides the corrective balance for Peter. He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean. [John 13:10] In other words, Peter, you don’t need to hop back in the bathtub, you just need to wash your feet.
One of the ways we benefit from this exchange is the helpful insight it provides about the reality that Christians are simultaneously saints and sinners. Here’s what I mean. Simply by living in our world there is a fair amount of dirt that gets on us, some by our stepping in it as it were, and some by grabbing onto us as we’re walking past. In both cases, we’re dirty and need to get washed. We need to go to Jesus and confess our sin, not because we need to be converted again, but because we are converted and know we need His continued mercy in our lives.
On the other hand, if we think because we’re converted, we’re set to go and will no longer need the mercy of Jesus, that we’re going to practice victorious Christian living, we’re in for a rude awakening or for a very shallow Christian life. Though our old man is dying daily, he doesn’t die completely until we die. He will continue to rear his head throughout this life. That’s why we need the balance Jesus gives Peter on the first Maundy Thursday.
Christians are, as Charles Dickens put it, a marvelous mixture of mud and marble. Holy Week is a good time to reflect on that reality more deeply. Jesus taught His disciples to pray “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” That’s a good prayer, and that’s a good way we can wash one another’s feet.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, thank You for washing our feet. We need it. Help us to live and walk in such a way that we don’t always “step in it.” Help us make straight paths for our feet. Let us not be so presumptuous as to imagine there is a point in time when we can live by our own righteousness, our own “keeping clean.” Help us to keep our eyes fixed on You, for You are the Author and Perfecter of our faith. May Your name be praised by our lives. Amen.