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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Maundy Thursday

Lexegete™ | Year A | Matthew


March 20, 2008

Exodus 12:1-4 (5-10) 11-14
Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19 (13)
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17, 31b-35

1a. CONTEXT - John 13: 1-17, 31b-35

This selection is one of two possible Gospel passages for Maundy Thursday, the other being Luke 22:14-30. Luke's emphasis is on the Last Supper as a rite of the community. In John, on the other hand, the emphasis is on footwashing as an expression of Jesus' nature as servant and as an example of discipleship. Liturgical practice traditionally has identified Maundy Thursday with the institution of the Eucharist and, in recent years, there has been renewed interest in footwashing as an act of powerful symbolism in that situation. The rite also has medieval precedent and frequently accompanied stripping and washing of the altar. Originally a hospitable amenity in ancient Palestine, footwashing was offered to guests upon arrival at a host's home. It was usually performed by a servant or by the wife of the host, while guests reclined at table. Luke 7:44 offers an example in another context.

In John 13 the illustration of footwashing suggests two kinds of themes. One is servant ministry; the other is liturgical. Much of the Christian tradition views Jesus' action as a dramatization of servanthood. Jesus' humility illustrates the kind of life discipleship requires. The Christian must serve without consideration those who come to him in need. This thought is strengthened by Jesus' pointed reference in verse 15. Raymond Brown understands verses 12-20 as a unit which stresses footwashing as a moral example. The fourth gospel emphasizes that
Christ's act is a metaphor for the Christian life.

However Brown also views verses 2-11 as a unit. The actual account of footwashing presents it as a prophetic symbol of Jesus' death. In this light the event has liturgical significance. It portrays the power of cleansing especially associated with baptism. It has implications for the Eucharist as participation in Christ's servanthood and as a preparation of oneself for ministry. In the context of Maundy Thursday, and the eve of the passion, such events reinforce the sacramental nature of the Christian community. Moreover, John 13 offers a powerful juxtaposition of the sacraments and of servanthood. Ideally the sacraments and the ministry of all believers enhance one another.

1b. TEXT: John 13: 1-15, 31b-35 (ESV)

13:1 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, [1] but is completely clean. And you [2] are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant [3] is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. 31 [When he had gone out, Jesus said, ] “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”


[1] 13:10 Some manuscripts omit except for his feet

[2] 13:10 The Greek words for you in this verse are plural

[3] 13:16 Greek bondservant


1προ δε της εορτης του πασχα ειδως ο ιησους οτι ηλθεν αυτου η ωρα ινα μεταβη εκ του κοσμου τουτου προς τον πατερα, αγαπησας τους ιδιους τους εν τω κοσμω, εις τελος ηγαπησεν αυτους. 2και δειπνου γινομενου, του διαβολου ηδη βεβληκοτος εις την καρδιαν ινα παραδοι αυτον ιουδας σιμωνος ισκαριωτου, 3ειδως οτι παντα εδωκεν αυτω ο πατηρ εις τας χειρας και οτι απο θεου εξηλθεν και προς τον θεον υπαγει, 4εγειρεται εκ του δειπνου και τιθησιν τα ιματια, και λαβων λεντιον διεζωσεν εαυτον. 5ειτα βαλλει υδωρ εις τον νιπτηρα και ηρξατο νιπτειν τους ποδας των μαθητων και εκμασσειν τω λεντιω ω ην διεζωσμενος. 6ερχεται ουν προς σιμωνα πετρον. λεγει αυτω, κυριε, συ μου νιπτεις τους ποδας; 7απεκριθη ιησους και ειπεν αυτω, ο εγω ποιω συ ουκ οιδας αρτι, γνωση δε μετα ταυτα. 8λεγει αυτω πετρος, ου μη νιψης μου τους ποδας εις τον αιωνα. απεκριθη ιησους αυτω, εαν μη νιψω σε, ουκ εχεις μερος μετ εμου. 9λεγει αυτω σιμων πετρος, κυριε, μη τους ποδας μου μονον αλλα και τας χειρας και την κεφαλην. 10λεγει αυτω ο ιησους, ο λελουμενος ουκ εχει χρειαν ει μη τους ποδας νιψασθαι, αλλ εστιν καθαρος ολος: και υμεις καθαροι εστε, αλλ ουχι παντες. 11ηδει γαρ τον παραδιδοντα αυτον: δια τουτο ειπεν οτι ουχι παντες καθαροι εστε. 12οτε ουν ενιψεν τους ποδας αυτων [και] ελαβεν τα ιματια αυτου και ανεπεσεν παλιν, ειπεν αυτοις, γινωσκετε τι πεποιηκα υμιν; 13υμεις φωνειτε με ο διδασκαλος και ο κυριος, και καλως λεγετε, ειμι γαρ. 14ει ουν εγω ενιψα υμων τους ποδας ο κυριος και ο διδασκαλος, και υμεις οφειλετε αλληλων νιπτειν τους ποδας: 15υποδειγμα γαρ εδωκα υμιν ινα καθως εγω εποιησα υμιν και υμεις ποιητε. 16αμην αμην λεγω υμιν, ουκ εστιν δουλος μειζων του κυριου αυτου ουδε αποστολος μειζων του πεμψαντος αυτον. 17ει ταυτα οιδατε, μακαριοι εστε εαν ποιητε αυτα.
... 31 [οτε ουν εξηλθεν λεγει ιησους, ] νυν εδοξασθη ο υιος του ανθρωπου, και ο θεος εδοξασθη εν αυτω: 32[ει ο θεος εδοξασθη εν αυτω] και ο θεος δοξασει αυτον εν αυτω, και ευθυς δοξασει αυτον. 33τεκνια, ετι μικρον μεθ υμων ειμι: ζητησετε με, και καθως ειπον τοις ιουδαιοις οτι οπου εγω υπαγω υμεις ου δυνασθε ελθειν, και υμιν λεγω αρτι. 34εντολην καινην διδωμι υμιν, ινα αγαπατε αλληλους: καθως ηγαπησα υμας ινα και υμεις αγαπατε αλληλους. 35εν τουτω γνωσονται παντες οτι εμοι μαθηται εστε, εαν αγαπην εχητε εν αλληλοις.

2. ANALYSIS: John 13: 1-17, 31b-35

13:1 - Pro de thw 'eorthw toy pæasxa....
The stage is set for Jesus' passion. The Gospel succinctly emphasizes Jesus' awareness of himself and his fate. His death would fulfill his nature as God's Son. Yet because of his willingness to be a servant, he would accept the grim fate he foresaw. Voluntary death is seen in the fourth gospel as the supreme expression of love (15:13). Jesus goes to his death because of the depth of his love. He loved humanity utterly, completely. Thus he died as an expression of servanthood.

13:7 - κψριε, σ⎛ψ μοψ ν⎛ιπτειω τοψω ποδαω απεκρ⎛ιυε ∍Ιησοψω και ειπεν αψτϖ:
Ο εγϖ ποιο σψ οψκ οιδαω ⎛αρτι, γν⎛ϖσει δε μετα ταψτα . . . .
Jesus' reply to Peter's dumbfounded query. As happens on other occasions in the New Testament, Peter's hesitation facilitates a powerful statement of faith. The linkage of now and later has eschatological significance. The reference to knowledge suggests insight, understanding, comprehension. As in John 12:16, Peter, like the other disciples, will only be able to make sense of this episode in the light of subsequent experience. The implication lingers that with understanding will come the demand to continue what Jesus has done, for the sake of the Church and its ministry. Verses 8-10 augur against too literal an interpretation of the rite. Instead, the event overflows with symbolism for the life of the Christian community. It serves as an example of the Church's nature.

13:14 - 'ο κψριοω και ∍ο διδασκαλοω
The titles Teacher and Lord were commonly given to rabbis by their disciples. In verse 14 Jesus reversed the order commonly used by his followers (verse 13). The titles, in this form, suggest Jesus' nature first, his role second. He imputes meaning to the title Lord that would not be imputed by traditional usage. At the same time he would dramatize personally the themes underscored in this passage. Footwashing is an illustration of who Jesus is. It is also an example for all who believe in Him to follow. The form of the statement recalls a type of argument used by rabbis. Here Jesus uses such a structure to reinforce his person-hood as the source of his authority.

3. STRATEGY: John 13: 1-17, 31b-35

The passage resounds with powerful, homiletic imagery. Its proximity to the passion, and resurrection, of Christ heightens its potential. In the context of a Eucharist, and perhaps a footwashing and a stripping of the altar, a profound moment is within reach. The eve of sorrow and death anticipates the dawn of triumph. Maundy Thursday is a moment of birth. It is the synthesis of rite, of Jesus' presence, and servanthood, into the foundations of the Christian community. At a time in history when privatized faith remains an irresistible lure for many, when the possibility of being "born again" frequently diminishes the significance of shared faith, this passage has important implications. Jesus' summons comes to the community of believers. Jesus' person dwells amid the company of his followers; his example directs a new kind of relationship, i.e., that of servanthood.

For liturgically grounded forms of Christianity there is a particular opportunity to interweave the Church's sacramental life with its call to ministry. The Church, as well as individual Christians, is faithful when it offers itself in humble service. Indeed, faith is not an intangible set of feelings or pious intentions. Faith is concrete. It entails participation in community and extension of oneself to serve others.

A minor theme in this passage concerns Peter. Peter often serves as the foil. His doubt reflects our own. His incredulity allows us a ready point of identification with the Gospel. Here he is astounded that Jesus should wash his feet. Exalted leaders don't do such things in Peter's eyes. On the other hand, with Jesus' persistence, Peter seeks personal indulgence. Peter is the modern believer, upon whom Jesus' example initially is lost. Peter inevitably grapples with what he cannot understand, and thus serves as an inducement to belief for those who question.

4. REFERENCES, John 13:!-17, 31b-35

York: Seabury, 1981.
Abingdon, 1962.
Leon-Dufour, Xavier. DICTIONARY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT. San Francisco:
Harper & Row, 1980.


"Strengthen for Service, Lord" HB 312 - LBW 218

"This is the Hour of Banquet and of Song" HB 316

"My God, thy Table Now is Spread" HB 321

"O Lord, We Praise You, Bless You and Adore You" LBW 215

"Now the Silence" LBW 205

Exegete: William L. Sachs, Ph.D., author of The Transformation of Anglicanism: From State Church to Global Communion. Cambndge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.


While it may seem odd or even irreverent to contemplate joy and laughter in the midst of this holiest of weeks, it may be something we need. I am thinking here especially of a "pop" book on religious humor by Cal Samra, founder of an organization known as the "Fellowship of Merry Christians." Samra's book is entitled THE JOYFUL CHRIST: The Healing Power of Humor
(San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1986). The book is a wonderful anthology of the meaning and message of humor in the church's mission today. Samra relates example after example to support his contention that humor is perhaps the most important missing dimension in the church's life today, a dimension that is needed for unity and wholeness. It is a challenging and exhilarating thesis, beautifully expressed. Moreover, once one has begun to ponder THE JOYFUL CHRIST, Jesus may never be the same! [ ] A recent issue of their Joyful Noiseletter notes:
Many American churches are resurrecting an old Easter custom begun by the Greeks in the early centuries of Christianity-"Holy Humor Sunday" celebrations of Jesus' resurrection on the Sunday after Easter.
For centuries in Eastern Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant countries, the week following Easter Sunday, including "Bright Sunday" (the Sunday after Easter), was observed by the faithful as "days of joy and laughter" with parties and picnics to celebrate Jesus' resurrection.
Churchgoers and pastors played practical jokes on each other, drenched each other with water, told jokes, sang, and danced.
The custom was rooted in the musings of early church theologians (like Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Chrysostom) that God played a practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. "Risus paschalis - the Easter laugh," the early theologians called it.
In 1988 the Fellowship of Merry Christians began encouraging churches and prayer groups to resurrect Bright Sunday celebrations and call it "Holy Humor Sunday," with the theme: "Jesus is the LIFE of the party."
Many churches from different traditions responded enthusiastically. Holy Humor Sunday services are bringing back large crowds to churches on a Sunday when church attendance typically drops dramatically.
If you Google “Holy Humor Sunday” on the Internet, you’ll be amazed at how widespread Holy Humor Sunday celebrations on the Sunday after Easter have become among churches of all traditions. It’s clearly a movement of the Holy Spirit to shore up belief in the resurrection of Jesus.

On a much more serious note is Jacob Jonsson's brilliant monograph, Humour and Irony in the New Testament: Illuminated by Parallels in Talmud and Midrash (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1985). This study was for many years the only serious, scholarly and theological work in its field aside from occasional brief essays and exegetical studies by various scholars. Jonsson's work was first published in Reykjavik in 1965 and exhaustive bibliography and indices on scriptural references containing elements of humor and irony. This new edition completely reprints the original and includes a brief foreword by Krister Stendahl, former Bishop of Stockholm, Sweden. It makes a fine starting point for anyone interested in a serious study of the place of humor in the Scriptures.




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