Maundy Thursday: Wash

By Charlie Osewalt | 15 April 2014

Maundy Thursday: Wash

“Master, you wash my feet?” Peter, John 13.

“Nothing in the world is more flexible and yielding than water. Yet when it attacks the firm and the strong, none can withstand it, because they have no way to change it. So the flexible overcome the adamant, the yielding overcome the forceful. Everyone knows this, but no one can do it.” Lao Tzu

Peter, like Lao Tzu, could not imagine or understand how a person could be as living, flowing, flexible and yielding as water.

Yet Jesus showed him and He teaches us all how to overcome the adamant, the forceful; how to be like water. This is the Jesus’ final teaching at the Last Supper.

On Easter, with His rising, Jesus will conquer death and give the greatest sign of life, hope and love to our world. The sign comes at the cost of Good Friday when Jesus is crucified. Peter couldn’t see this coming. To be fair, no one did. It was Passover; crowds had hailed Jesus in Jerusalem’s streets. Everyone expected something big to occur.  The expectation is that this should be a dinner to anoint a King. Instead the King bows lows, strips, and dirties himself on a slave’s apron covered with the waste and refuse of others. His first teaching of the night was: remember me, by breaking bread and sharing a cup in community. The second teaching: serve one another totally and absolutely. Be flexible and yielding like water; be servants to one another. Here is The Message retelling of John’s narrative:

‘Jesus knew that the Father had put him in complete charge of everything that he came from God and was on his way back to God. So he got up from the supper table, set aside his robe, and put on an apron. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the feet of the disciples, drying them with his apron. When he got to Simon Peter, Peter said, “Master, you wash my feet?”

7 Jesus answered, “You don’t understand now what I’m doing, but it will be clear enough to you later.’

After the washing, Jesus explains.

“Do you understand what I have done to you? You address me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Master,’ and rightly so. That is what I am. So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do.’ “

Imagine the scene: the bread has been broken; the cup passed. Jesus gets up; changes his robe; strips to a slave’s apron and begins to wash. He yields, stoops as a slave.  Imagine the horror. ‘We should have washed your feet.’ must have been a thought that passed through their minds. Peter is the only one who speaks, “Master, you wash my feet?” Peter is not flexible in understanding here. Unlike Jesus, he cannot yield.

..But he will. The purpose of the washing, the understanding, will come to all of them. After all, this is His last teaching. Jesus washes because He loves; He is flexible and yielding in love. He loves to the end. Even to the bottoms of our feet.

How are we then to live?  Jesus speaks directly, ‘if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet.’

Girded in an apron, almost naked, vulnerable in love, parts of their dirt had to cling to Him, just as our sins did on that Friday. This is His position on the cross. Naked and vulnerable; flexible and yielding; broken in body and thirsting for water. He loved on the cross and, here, in the room of the last meal.  Every wash of their feet must have called to His heart and mind how His body would be broken in sweat and tears for all very soon.

How then are we to shape our lives and become like water? In being flexible towards others, in yielding our position and washing feet, we become His water: instruments of cleansing service.  Right here, now, with the people He has placed around you: your work; your friends; your church; your family; your enemy. For Jesus washed all his Disciples’ feet. Even Judas’.



Read more:

This Easter, consider donating to the thirsty with the first of our four featured water charities: Water Aid

Should I give while in debt? How can I give to friends without making the relationship awkward? Ask the difficult questions with our free 10-part generosity series: The Art of Giving


image by runekrem, used under creative commons licence


Posted by Charlie Osewalt

Charles Osewalt is a husband, father of four children and former elder at Redeemer Church NYC. He has worked in schools for the last twenty years as principal in the Morrisanna section of the Bronx. He formerly worked as a content and curriculum specialist for Stewardship. He tweets at @charlesosewalt


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