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If I Do Not Wash You, You Have No Share with Me

28 March • Maundy Thursday

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

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, but is completely clean. And you 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 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.

31b 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.”



It was customary to clean one’s dusty feet when seated (on the floor) around the table for a meal. But in a private gathering among the disciples, there was no servant to wash their feet. As the disciples were settling down, something unexpected happened. The Master Himself took the initiative to wash His disciples’ feet! Imagine the look of disbelief around the table. How could the Master take the role of a servant? The outspoken Peter objected to Jesus’ action and said that he would never allow the Master to insult Himself by washing the disciples’ feet. But Jesus replied that if Peter’s feet were not washed, then he would be excluded from the Master’s fellowship.

By washing His disciples’ feet, Jesus had initiated them into His fellowship whereby service and leadership was not driven by prestige or self-aggrandisement but by humility and servanthood. In cleansing their feet, Jesus’ action would free them towards humble service, empowered by God’s love. Our Lord knows how difficult it is for anyone with authority over othersto refrain from abusing that position, because human nature desires to control and to ‘lord it over’ others. Yet, Jesus turns the world upside down with a new ethic: “A new commandment I give to one another” (v.34), for only with this quality of love, are we enabled to practise servanthood.

In a world where people wait to be served, especially by those who are below the pecking order of our organisation or social circle, Jesus has set an example by stooping to the level of a servant, to do that which the disciples considered to be beneath His dignity.



Dear Heavenly Father, as we partake of the Holy Communion this Maundy Thursday, remind us that we have undergone spiritual change because of Christ. And even though in the eyes of the world we may be unequal and are not of the same background and status, help us to be willing to serve each other, even as our Master showed us by His personal example. Help us day by day to grow in humility so that we will always be willing to put others ahead of us. In Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen.



Can you recall the last time when you had the opportunity to initiate humble service but did not act on it. How can you prepare yourself to follow Jesus’ example when the next opportunity arises?

Rev Dr Ngoei Foong Nghian

General Secretary

National Council of Churches of Singapore

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