Holy Week Reflection: Maundy Thursday
Dr. Hulitt Gloer
Climbing the stairs to the Upper Room that Thursday night, the disciples were almost giddy with excitement. Who could blame them? In their minds everything was going as planned. On Sunday, they had entered Jerusalem in triumph as crowds lined the streets cheering Jesus as the long-expected Messiah. On Monday, Jesus had shut down the commercialized Temple and no one dared to stop him. On Tuesday and Wednesday, he had silenced scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, and all who tried to do him in, ended up being done in themselves.
Gathering around the table, they could never have anticipated what they were about to experience. They must have assumed that the revolution that would finally free them from Roman domination was about to begin. Then, at last, Jesus the messiah would establish the Kingdom of God and rule the nations. Certainly, the events of the week had set the stage for that to happen, so they all took their places, anxiously awaiting Jesus’ orders.
Jesus rose from his place, walked across the room, poured water from a pitcher into a basin, wrapped a towel around his waist and, one by one, he began to wash his disciples’ feet.
Foot washing. It had to be done. After even a short walk in the city or a day’s journey on the dusty, rocky roads of Palestine, it had to be done. So a pitcher, a basin, and a towel were standard equipment in every home, but foot washing was a do-it-yourself affair. Foot washing was considered so demeaning that a rabbi, who could demand that his disciples do whatever he pleased, could not make his students wash his feet. Yet, here was the rabbi, and more than a rabbi, he was the messiah, the king, washing his disciples’ feet. Unthinkable!
Just how shocking this was becomes clear when Jesus gets to Peter. He was not having it, “Lord, you will never wash my feet!” Peter is using the most defiant “no” possible. “Lord, you will never, under any circumstance, at any time or any place, ever wash my feet.” This was certainly not the work for the messiah. Messiahs do not serve, they rule. This just makes no sense!
Jesus had a chilling response for Peter. “Unless I wash your feet, Peter, you have no part with me!” It was Jesus’ way of saying, “This is who I am, Peter. the Son of Man who came not to be served but to serve and give his life away for the sake of others. Unless you can accept me for who I am, you have no part with me.”
This stunning revelation will require that Peter reboot his whole understanding of what messiahship means. No swords and spears, no charging stallions, no insurrection as Peter as Peter was hoping for, no driving the Romans into the sea. What’s more, if Peter and the disciples find Jesus servanthood hard to swallow, the next 24 hours will be unimaginable. Jesus will hang suspended between heaven and earth, with nails in his wrist and feet, crown of thorns on his brow, and a spear in his side, his arms outstretched as if to take the whole world in his embrace, saying, “This is how much I love you. I give my life for you.”
The foot washing and the last supper are both meant to demonstrate the meaning of Jesus’ life and death. He is the suffering servant who is willing to wash feet as a demonstration of the nature of his calling and sacrifice his life for the sake of others.
Then, in the Last Supper, he took bread and broke it, saying, “This is my body broken for you.” Then he took the wine saying, “This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for you.“
“This is who I am, Peter, the Son of Man who came not to be served but to serve and give his life away, and if you can’t accept me for who I am, you have no part with me.”
But there is more. When he is finished washing the disciples’ feet, he stands before them and this is what he said, “…if I, your Lord and Savior, washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you…If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”- Not blessed if you know them, but blessed if you do them.
If we pause a moment, we just might hear can hear the echo of Jesus’ conversation with Peter at Caesarea Philippi (Mark 8:27-38). Remember? Jesus asks the disciples about the public opinion of his identity. Then he asks the disciples about their own opinion and Peter responds that Jesus is the Christ/Messiah. Then Jesus begins to teach that he will suffer and die in Jerusalem. Peter will have none of this kind of talk so he takes Jesus aside and “rebukes” him. Jesus then rebukes Peter, whose unwillingness to accept Jesus’ destiny is as the voice of Satan trying his best to divert Jesus from the way he must go. Jesus addresses Peter further by telling him that he’s thinking the way humans think, not the way God thinks. That kind of thinking has got to go. Peter has definite plans for Jesus and they don’t include suffering service and a dying messiah. Jesus goes on to say, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). Denying self means denying our expectations for who Jesus should be and who we who are his followers should be.
In the Upper Room that night, Jesus announced who he was and who he wants us to be. He was the suffering servant who gave his life for the sake of others. I don’t know about you, but I’m afraid I’m like Peter, always trying to superimpose my own image of Jesus on Jesus. Maybe I need to be converted. Maybe I need to stop thinking the way humans think. Maybe then rather than forming Jesus in my image, I can be formed in His image for the sake of others.
*photo by He Qi.