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“Maundy Leadership”
by Tom Goodman
March 24, 2005

This Thursday we leaders need to remember what happened on another Thursday two thousand years ago.

It was the night before Jesus went to the cross, and he took a servant’s towel and washed his disciples’ feet.  He then told his closest disciples, the future leaders of his new church, that he expected them to follow his example.  This is why we call the fifth day of Holy Week “Maundy Thursday.”  The old English word maundy comes from the Latin word mandatum or “mandate.”  It was on this night that Jesus mandated that you and I serve each other (John 13).

In those days, there were no cars to drive or boots to wear.  People walked, and their sandaled feet were caked with the dust and mud of the road by the time they arrived at someone’s house.  What’s more, when people dined, they didn’t sit in chairs with their feet under the table (despite what you see in Leonardo’s famous “Last Supper” painting).  Instead, they sat or reclined at low tables no higher than a modern coffee table.  It simply wasn’t proper to come to that kind of dinner setting with dirty feet.  So, at dinner parties it was the unwelcome job of the lowest servant of the household to squat at the door with a washbasin and a towel.  As guests arrived, the servant would remove their sandals and wash their feet.

Even down to this day, when you’re in the Middle Eastern culture you have to be sure not to offend someone with your feet.  Just a decade ago, someone from our State Department nearly derailed delicate negotiations when he casually crossed his legs, exposing the sole of his shoe to an Arab leader.  The Middle Eastern leader walked out of the meeting in a huff.  To him, it was like getting the middle finger.

That’s why it’s so astonishing to read that Jesus, the Son of God himself, took a towel and a washbasin, unlatched the sandals of each of his disciples, and washed their dusty feet.  He washed the feet of Judas, the night he betrayed him.  He cleansed the feet of Peter, the night he denied him.  He washed the feet of the other men who would soon abandon him.

He did it for two reasons:  to illustrate his atonement, which we must accept, and to set an example, which we must followThe whole Christian life is captured in Christ’s act of washing feet on Maundy Thursday.

First, Jesus washed feet to illustrate his atonement, which we must accept.  Just as Christ performed this undignified but necessary act of washing mud from feet, the next day he went to the cross to wash sin from our souls.  That’s why Jesus said, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me” (verse 8).  He was speaking about so much more than cleaning the disciples’ feet.  The Christian life begins when we gratefully and humbly accept the work of the cross.  The universe’s Lord died to wash the stain of sin away, and we get a new life when we say to him, “Wash me!”

Second, Jesus washed feet to set an example, which we must follow.  The Christian life is not only about accepting Christ’s service to us, but also about copying it in our service others!

When you care for a lonely person ignored by others, or meet a need with no possibility of reward, or inconvenience yourself to help a neighbor, it’s as if you have a washbasin and towel in your hand.  Meeting needs is not an aspect of the Christian life or a strategy of Christian leadership.  Instead, it’s simply what it looks like to follow the Lord.

Make this Thursday Maundy!


Don’t forget about our special Maundy Thursday program tonight at 7 p.m.!  A representative from Jews for Jesus will lead us in “Christ in the Passover.”  He will take us through a Passover Seder and explain how the elements mirror the character and actions of the Messiah.  Childcare will be provided.

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