Excerpted from Enough for All, a Lenten Guide for Lectionary Year B from the North Carolina Council of Churches.
John 13: 1-17, 31b-35
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Maundy Thursday, the day we remember Jesus gathering with the disciples in the city of Jerusalem. Even on this last night, he continued teaching them by washing their feet and sharing a meal. The meal is today repeated in Christian communities around the world, going by names like The Lord’s Supper, Communion, the Eucharist. The meal is a constant reminder of God’s love for us and Jesus’ commandment to us that we ought to “love one another.”
This day that marks the beginning of the Triduum, the culmination of Lent, calls us to reflection, repentance and renewal. I am struck by how these few verses of scripture contain such a multitude of messages and how any one message will stand out for me depending upon the times in which we are living or what is happening in my life at the moment.
This year as I pondered these verses, I was struck by the conflict between the words of Jesus and the world I see swirling around me. Jesus’ expectation of us in these verses is clear: “For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you, Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.” By removing his outer robe, tying on a towel around his waist and washing the feet of his disciples, Jesus displays total humility. Humility willingly demonstrated by one who is Lord of all creation.
How are we not convicted by the way we often use our privilege, our titles, our incomes, and other attributes we imagine make us more worthy than others? Jesus follows this example of humility with a paraphrase of the “Great Commandment,” telling those who would be his followers to “love one another, just as I have loved you.” How are we still finding ways to see each other as anything besides someone to love as Jesus loved?
In a year that has been collectively more difficult than any in most of our lifetimes, we have continued to see many of our neighbors treated as less than. This treatment has literally caused some of God’s beloved to die, whether through the systemic racism that permeates our lives to the denial of life saving healthcare during a global health crisis. How are we still debating the equal worth of all people no matter our skin color, our gender, who we love, how we worship, or what our monetary worth is?
These verses in the Gospel of John are powerful–the example of Jesus’ humility, the institution of the Eucharist, and the command to love. This is the way of life offered to us if we embrace the teachings of Jesus. The Council’s Lenten theme, “Enough for All,” asks each of us to consider what our lives and the lives of our neighbors can look like when we only take enough for our needs and when we give enough to others to meet their needs. There is enough for all of us to live life abundantly. As we move from Maundy Thursday, through Good Friday, and into the hope of the resurrection, I pray that we say enough is enough when we see that our neighbors are not given enough dignity as God’s beloved, enough food as God’s children, and enough love as our neighbors. Jesus has given us enough instructions in this one scene for us to figure out how to do it.