A.J. Thomas is the Founder of Joyful Giving Group, whose mission is to cultivate a culture of generosity.
A.J. is a practiced believer in the power of generosity to transform individual lives, congregations, and entire communities.
A.J. is an ordained United Methodist pastor with over a decade of leadership experience in the local church. He is appointed to Joyful Giving Group as an extension ministry of the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Maundy Thursday: Wash Up Before Supper (John 13:1-17,31b-35)
Before the Festival of Passover, Jesus knew that his time
had come to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who
were in the world, he loved them fully.
2 Jesus and
his disciples were sharing the evening meal. The devil had already provoked
Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew the
Father had given everything into his hands and that he had come from God and
was returning to God. 4 So he got up from the table and took
off his robes. Picking up a linen towel, he tied it around his waist. 5 Then
he poured water into a washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying
them with the towel he was wearing. 6 When Jesus came to Simon
Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
replied, “You don’t understand what I’m doing now, but you will understand
8 “No!” Peter
said. “You will never wash my feet!”
Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t have a place
9 Simon Peter
said, “Lord, not only my feet but also my hands and my head!”
responded, “Those who have bathed need only to have their feet washed, because
they are completely clean. You disciples are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 He
knew who would betray him. That’s why he said, “Not every one of you is clean.”
12 After he
washed the disciples’ feet, he put on his robes and returned to his place at
the table. He said to them, “Do you know what I’ve done for you? 13 You
call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you speak correctly, because I am. 14 If
I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you too must wash each other’s
feet. 15 I have given you an example: Just as I have done, you
also must do. 16 I assure you, servants aren’t greater than
their master, nor are those who are sent greater than the one who sent them. 17 Since
you know these things, you will be happy if you do them.
“Now the Human One has been glorified, and God has been
glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will
also glorify the Human One in himself and will glorify him immediately. 33 Little
children, I’m with you for a little while longer. You will look for me—but,
just as I told the Jewish leaders, I also tell you now—‘Where I’m going, you
34 “I give you
a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must
love each other. 35 This is how everyone will know that you are
my disciples, when you love each other.”
We all know the difference
between a command and a suggestion.A
command is an order, something with which compliance is not optional.In the workplace, if your boss commands you
to do something, so long as it’s not illegal or immoral, you do it, or you
start looking for a different job.In
the military, decisions and orders are passed down through a chain-of-command,
with which everyone complies, because lives and the overall mission are at
stake.Husbands, you know the difference
between a command and a suggestion from your wives, namely, that there is no
difference – that every suggestion is, in reality, another form of command.
In these contexts, we are
pretty good at following commands.The
life of faith also comes with commands, but do we brush off the commands of
Jesus as mere suggestions?
Today is Maundy Thursday –
sometimes called Holy Thursday because it is Thursday of Holy Week – that
climactic week in the church’s year between Palm Sunday and Easter.Maundy is an old-sounding word, a confusing
word, but a good word for us to keep.“Maundy” comes from the Latin, mandatum,
sounds like “mandate,” and it means “commandment.”Maundy Thursday literally means, “Commandment
Thursday,” and we remember on this day that Jesus gave us a mandatum novum, a new commandment, to
love one another.
It is a command given when
the stakes are high.Imagine, for a
moment, that you knew you were going to die – but you had a chance for one last
gathering of your family and friends – would you not share with them things of
the utmost importance?Some wisdom to
pass on, final instructions, a verbal last will and testament, the important
things by which you wish to be remembered?
Around the table on that
night, before Jesus tasted death, he did the same thing with us.“I give you a new commandment,” he said.“Love each other.Just as I have loved you, so you also must
love each other.This is how the world
will know you are my disciples, when you love each other.”
And so here’s my question
for us to consider on this Maundy Thursday: are we diligent in following this
command, or do we treat it as a mere suggestion?Have we made optional something Jesus clearly
intended to be mandatory?Often we have,
and here’s why.
Somewhere along the way,
the Church (not this church but THE
Church) bought into the myth that spiritual matters are private matters –
something just between me and God.
When Jesus gave this new
commandment to “Love each other,” it was actually a reiteration of what Jesus
had already said was the greatest commandment, to love God and love our
neighbor.The Gospel is social in
nature, always lived in the context of relationships with other people, and it
is never enough to reduce it to what is going on only between an individual and
God.Think of it as living in a house
with windows open in the roof, toward God in heaven, and windows open around
the sides, toward those around us, our neighbors.To privatize our faith, to make it solely
between us and God, is to close off those windows around the side and shut our
Friends, that’s not an
option, because Jesus said we would be known as his followers in our love for
one another.The goal is to open the
windows of our soul toward heaven and bask in the radiance of God’s love, while
we also open toward our neighbors and reflect that love in their direction.On this Maundy Thursday, on this Commandment
Thursday, Jesus gives a command: Love each other.Let us not treat as optional something Jesus
To be clear, Jesus isn’t
saying, “Have warm fuzzy feelings for everyone.”For one thing, that’s just impossible.You can’t have warm fuzzy feelings for
everyone because so many people are just so downright irritating!Jesus’ commandment is not to have warm fuzzy
feelings, but it is to love.
Love is not a feeling, but
an action, a choice.It’s the
disposition to reach out in compassion and concern to others with all the
sensitivity, understanding, and imagination our faculties can muster, to think
of others more than ourselves, to place the needs of others above our own.
Love may start in our
hearts, but it shows itself through our hands.Love makes itself known by our actions.On this night, Jesus performed two actions that demonstrate his love,
and he told his followers to continue doing those two things as a way to grow
in love with him and with each other.
We probably think of one
of those actions pretty readily – Holy Communion, the Eucharist, the Last
Supper.God’s family table is a place
where God’s love and grace are as real and tangible as the bread on the
table.Holy Communion is a meal that
celebrates the limitless extent of God’s love, which is why all are welcome to
receive, and the abundance of God’s grace, which is why I give you such big
pieces of bread it has become a running joke between us.
On that night so long ago,
the disciples were eager to get to the table.They bounded into that upper room, scoping out positions of honor around
the table, ignoring the pitcher of water, a basin, and a towel by the
door.In those days, traveling meant
walking.Sweaty feet in leather sandals
kicking up great clouds of dust.Even a
short distance could make your feet pretty nasty, and so feet were washed just
inside the door.
Washing feet served
several purposes.Part of it was so that
you could have a pleasant dining experience after walking around with dusty and
sweaty feet all day.Part of that was to
help you feel refreshed at the end of the day.Part of that was simply about being clean.
A wealthy person might
have servants who did that, sometimes you were left to wash your own feet, and
sometimes, the socially lowest-ranking person present would be asked to wash
the feet of everyone else.Washing feet
was the job of servants.Great people do
not wash feet.The disciples were so
caught up in rank and positions of honor, none of them wanted to willingly take
the lowest position.The disciples
realized that if they stopped to wash their own feet, they might end up washing
everyone else’s feet, too.Peter, James,
John, Andrew, Thomas, Judas - none of them wanted to get stuck doing that –
they were all above that!And so the
basin sat by the door.
But as the supper
progressed, Jesus got up from the table, and he walked back to the door, and he
picked up that pitcher, basin, and towel.As he tied the towel around his waist, the disciples were
mortified.“Oh no.Jesus isn’t going to wash our feet, is
he?”But Jesus starts around the table,
first with John, then with Judas, then on around the entire table.
Jesus Christ – the son of
God, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords – washed his disciples’ feet.Think “Undercover Boss” here.The master performed the work of a servant.The king took on the role of the slave.The one with the highest rank completed the
task reserved for the lowest among them.
They’re not feeling happy
about this.They’re not refreshed.They’re embarrassed because their Lord –their
teacher, their master – has taken the form of a servant.Jesus is pointing us to the kingdom of God,
in which the roles of the world are reversed – where the king is the servant, where
the greatest are those who give of themselves in service to others.But by washing their feet, Jesus was showing
them that, in the kingdom of God, rank has no privileges.
After washing their feet,
Jesus says, “You call me master, teacher, rabbi, Lord – and I am all these things.But follow my example: I have washed your
feet to show you that no one is above this, that no one is too good to perform
even the most menial or degrading task.Friends,
this is what love looks like.I have
taken the most degrading, humiliating job a servant can take on; I’ve taken a
job nobody else wanted to do.If you
want to live in my kingdom, start worrying less about who is going to serve
you, and get serving.”
In the world of tennis,
the greatest players are known for their serve.That’s true in the life of faith, as well – the greatest disciples are
known for their serve.Consider Jesus a
tennis coach – always helping us improve our serve.Jesus said, “The greatest among you will be
servant to all.”
On Maundy Thursday, Jesus
gave us a new commandment – to love each other.Love is not a warm, fuzzy feeling, but acts of compassionate service, as
Jesus demonstrated and called us to imitate.
The question of Maundy
Thursday for each of us to consider is whether we have a servant’s heart –
whether we are waiting to be served, or looking for opportunities to serve,
whether our motivation is in terms of what we can get, or what we can
give.Jesus told us to love each other –
something that may start in our heart, but that shows itself by our hands.
Jesus came among us as a
servant - he was here to serve rather than be served.We say we want to be like Jesus, which means
we, too, are called to serve.Just as he
washed his disciples’ feet, now he looks at each of us and calls us by name and
hands the basin and towel to each of us and says, “If you love me, show it in
your love for others.Take the tools of
love, and go to serve others in my name.”Jesus is calling you by name to love and to serve - they are
one-in-the-same - will you take the pitcher and basin and towel and do as he
tells us to do?Or, like it did on that
night so long ago with Jesus and his disciples, will the tools of love once
again sit neglected by the door in the hopes that someone else will pick them
One more thing.This night, Jesus knew that Judas was going
to sell him out for thirty pieces of silver.He knew that Peter would deny him.He knew the others around the table would flee out of fear and abandon
him, but he still said they were his friends, he still desired to eat the meal
with them.Jesus washed the feet and ate
with those who would betray, deny, and abandon him.So remind me again of our excuse for holding
grudges and withholding affection?
He still washed their
feet.He still served them Holy
Communion, even though he knew they were all going to fail him, because that’s
what love does.
We all know the difference
between a command and a suggestion.On
this Maundy Thursday, Jesus gave us a new command – to love each other, as he
has loved us.