Thursday, April 1, 2010


Maundy Thursday Meditation

Exodus 12:1-4 (5-10) 11-14; Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Maundy is from mandatum, "commandment." John 13:34, mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos ut et vos diligatis invicem (Vulgate). "A new commandment I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, you also ought to love one another." (See Maundy Thursday, Wikipedia.)

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Peon, peons:

1826, from Mex.Sp. peon "agricultural laborer" (esp. a debtor held in servitude by his creditor), from Sp., "day laborer," also "pedestrian," originally "foot soldier," from M.L. pedonem "foot soldier" (see pawn (2)). The word entered British Eng. earlier (1609) in the sense "native constable, soldier, or messenger in India," via Port. peao "pedestrian, foot soldier, day laborer."

Source: Online Etymology Dictionary, Or see the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary entry for peon.

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I decided on this title for the Maundy Thursday meditation while preparing an etymology lesson for my 7th grade Latin class at Southport Presbyterian Christian School. Our vocabulary for that lesson included the Latin word pēs (genitive pedis); m, third declension. One of the English words (or Spanish, as the case may be) derived from pes is "peon" (and "pawn"), i.e., a "foot soldier" (pedon). About the same time that I was preparing this lesson in etymology, I was also reading John 13 and preparing the bulletin for our Maundy Thursday service. What struck me as I read John 13:5-9 again was that Jesus chose to wash the very part of the disciple anatomy that most clearly referenced the disciples' servant status: the pedes discipulorum (Greek, tous podas ton matheton). True, Jesus was also modeling servant status himself, taking off his outer garment and wrapping a towel around his waist. He was truly being the "servant of the servants of God." But I have often wondered at Peter's objection to Jesus' action.

Perhaps it is true that Peter he did not want Jesus "demeaning" himself by playing the slave. But why the focus on the feet? And why suggest that Jesus wash not only his feet but also his head and hands? (13:9) Perhaps Peter is embarrassed by his "disciple feet." Dirty feet show that Peter has been doing the chores of a menial laborer. He has been doing drudge work, peasant work. He is a flunky for the kingdom of heaven. And perhaps Peter would rather draw attention to the more honorable parts of the body, his hands and especially his head. (1 Corinthians 12:23)

Whatever the case, Jesus makes it absolutely clear to Peter and the rest that their feet are always going to need washing (they have disciple feet, like it or not) and that they are the ones who will soon enough need to be washing feet for one another. The servant is not greater than his master, the student than his teacher, nor the apostle (messenger, footman) than the one who commissioned him. (John 13:16) This is the heart of the examination that Paul admonishes for those who are preparing to participate in the Lord's Supper. (1 Corinthians 11:28) The examination reveals our dirty disciple feet and our need for cleansing. Allowing the spotlight to fall on our servant status can be uncomfortable, as it was for Peter and the disciples. But it is necessary, so that we try to outdo one another in loving others and honoring others above ourselves. (Romans 12:10)

The prayer for Maundy Thursday is: "Teach me, Lord, to love and serve others." The question for examination this Maundy Thursday is whether there is something more that Christ is asking us to do, some greater depth of service to others that he is calling us to take up. Are your feet as dirty as they can get? Have you washed the feet of your brothers and sisters lately?

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