The Author

Washing Feet

As I write, it is Thursday morning, the day traditionally known as Maundy Thursday in the Christian Calendar. It is the night of his Last Supper with his disciples, the night in which he was betrayed by one of those closest to him.

There is some dispute about the origin of the word
Maundy. Traditionally, it is understood to come from the Latin word mandatum, which means a command or order. This interpretation comes from Jesus’ words to his disciples in John 13:14, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” Many Christian groups, including several stripes of Baptists, have understood this to be a third ordinance, alongside the Supper and Baptism. The logic is, Jesus said do it, so we must do it.

The other interpretation is less well-established but at least as powerful. Some argue that the origin of the word is from the Latin
mendicare, which means ‘to beg.” The word is more an image than an act, the image of Jesus bending in submission to his disciples, serving them as a household slave. If you remember the events of that night as John records them, the disciple Peter was incensed and vowed that Jesus would never wash his feet. He was offended that Jesus would do such a thing.

I am torn between the two opinions. ’Til now, I have understood the act as an option, a suggestion more than a command, not really an ordinance; I still believe that the act of washing another’s feet in the regular worship of the church does not rise to the level of another ordinance, but is something that we could do as we re-enacted the events of the night before Jesus’ trial and death.

I am haunted, though, by the other possible definition. To be as humble as a servant, to lower oneself in the presence of another, even those who wish us ill (remember, Jesus washed Judas’s feet also) is far more than a ritual; it is the evidence of a life that is changed. To resist, to refuse, to declare “
I will never…” Well, I wonder what that means.

Does it mean that we have certain traditions that we hold dear that allow no additions? Does it mean that what we are really doing is just re-enacting, observing from afar what might be a good suggestion, but truly not a command? Does it mean that it might be alright for Jesus to be a servant, but not alright for us?

I write this on the Thursday before Easter. Sunday will be here before I know it. I better make up my mind what all this means.