Text Study for the Maundy Thursday

The Rev. Joseph Winston April 21, 2011

Commentary
Exodus 12:1-14
The L ORD tells the people what is required before they set out on their journey to the promised land. An animal must be selected and be made ready. A meal needs to be cooked. And the house is to be marked against the danger that walks the land at night. This work is carried out every year so the people know what kind of God the L ORD is. Exodus 12:1 The L ORD said – The command to keep the Passover comes from the mouth of the L ORD. Exodus 12:2 This month shall mark for you the beginning of months – This event is so important that everything must follow it. That is why time itself is changed and the calendar is adjusted. Exodus 12:3 Tell the whole congregation of Israel – No one is exempted from this celebration of freedom. Exodus 12:4 If a household is too small – The L ORD provides practical rules to ensure no one is left out. Exodus 12:5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male – The L ORD asks for the best lamb or goat to feed the people. Exodus 12:6 You shall keep it until the fourteenth day – The animal is selected on the tenth day of the month and then four days later it is killed. 1

Exodus 12:7 take some of the blood and put it – Mark your houses so that others know you are Jews. Place the blood on your door then the angel of the L ORD realizes you trust in the promise. Exodus 12:8 eat the lamb – The sacrifice is not for the L ORD but instead for the benefit of the people. with unleavened bread and bitter herbs – Tradition will develop around the use of these two items. Bread without yeast is part of the meal since there is no time to let the dough rise before they must leave. The herbs remind the people of the pain and suffering that comes with the loss of freedom. Exodus 12:9 Do not eat any of it raw – The L ORD spells out prohibitions such as this example on how not to consume the meat. Exodus 12:10 You shall let none of it remain – When you are leaving for a long journey across a wilderness, you need to have your strength. Eat up. You do not know where your next meal is coming from. Exodus 12:11 you shall eat it hurriedly – The time to leave this world is coming soon, very soon. Be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. Exodus 12:12 I will execute judgements – On this night, as on every night, the L ORD will decide who will live and who will not. Exodus 12:13 I will pass over you – Ironically, the L ORD, a warrior mighty in battle, the creator of existence, does not know His own people unless they mark themselves. How then, can one trust in the decisions made by the L ORD if this One lacks access to some of the facts? Exodus 12:14 be a day of remembrance – From now on, keep these feast to remember what the L ORD has done.

Psalm 116
The author expresses his reasons for trusting in the L ORD and this impacts every part of his life including his death. Psalm 116:1 I love the L ORD, because he has heard – The psalmist’s attraction to the L ORD is due to the practical reason of response. The L ORD has answered his prayer. 2

Psalm 116:2 I will call on him as long as I live. – This single answer by the L ORD causes a lifetime attraction to the L ORD. ... Psalm 116:12 What shall I return to the L ORD – The question comes from one who is thankful what the L ORD has done. What do the ones, who never have heard a single word from the L ORD do? What is their response to a God that sits in silence? What happens to those who suffer and cry out but nothing ever improves? Psalm 116:13 I will lift up the cup of salvation – Even the act of drinking becomes an occasion for thanksgiving because the L ORD has answered the poet’s prayer. Psalm 116:14 I will pay my vows to the L ORD – Apparently, part of the prayer included a dedication of some precious resource to the L ORD. What do the people who have nothing do? What do the downtrodden offer the L ORD? What sacrifice does one make on their death-bead? Psalm 116:15 Precious in the sight of the L ORD is the death of his faithful ones. – Yet the L ORD is silent and people die. Do they pass out of existence without the L ORD’s knowledge? Psalm 116:16 I am your servant, the child of your serving-maid – This one knows the L ORD because of the faithful witness of his mother. Who speaks to those who do not have parents? Who comes to those people whose mother and father do not know the L ORD? Who tells those who have forgotten the words of their childhood? Psalm 116:17 I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice – This man is blessed. The L ORD listen to him. His fortune is great. Not only does he has enough resources to promise the L ORD something special but the poet also has access to more material goods that he will dedicate to the L ORD. What do the have-nots sacrifice? Who will remember the poor in the future? Where is their salvation? Psalm 116:18 in the presence of all his people – The entire company will know the mighty deeds of the L ORD. 3

Psalm 116:19 in your midst, O Jerusalem – The L ORD’s holy city is where the vow and the sacrifice take place. The less fortunate cannot make it to Jerusalem. No one knows about their pain.

1 Corinthians 11:23-26
Paul recounts for the church in Corinth the tradition that he knows. It describes a meal where Jesus is present. Jesus tells His followers to eat and drink. The bread that is served tells the believers that Jesus is really with them. The wine unites the drinkers with the new reality found in Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:23 For I received from the Lord – Paul asserts that this specific instruction on how to celebrate the Lord’s Supper came directly from Jesus. It seems that what Paul describes in I Corinthians 11:23-26 is a Chaburah meal, a periodic fellowship of men that come together and enjoy each other’s company. One also can see Paul’s writing change from a rhetorical style into a liturgical style. Since the liturgy is so “polished” most writers assume that Paul is quoting from an earlier tradition. 1 Corinthians 11:24 This is my body – In the Greek, it says soma (σ α) which indicates a person, that is somebody. The Greek does not say sarx (σάρξ), which means flesh or carcass. So Jesus is saying that He is really present in the meal. 1 Corinthians 11:25 after supper – Traditionally, Chaburah started around 10:00 am and continued to sundown. This cup – At the end of the meal, whatever wine was left over was poured into a single bowl and everyone was expected to drink from it. This last drink was called the “cup of blessing.” It tops off the occasion and it is a toast to the next meal that the men have together. new covenant – This cup (of blessing) is the new relationship between God and humanity that is found in Christ’s blood. When one drinks from this cup (of blessing) with others, you have a full share of God’s blessings. 1 Corinthians 11:26 you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes – Paradoxically, the church knows that Jesus died and lives. He has left and is still here.

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John 13:1-17, 31b-35
There is an elephant in the room. This phrase that entered the English language about fifty years ago does not mean that a pachyderm, a large mammal with thick skin, somehow escaped from the circus train and is now wandering among us. There is an elephant in the room. When someone says that sentence, they mean we have a problem. It is an issue so big that everyone clearly sees it but no one is willing to talk about it. The reality staring us right in the face is too difficult to bring up. It is much easier for us to completely ignore the facts than to plainly talk about them. The Church keeps and feeds a whole herd of elephants. There is one here today with us. For some reason, when the people of God hear tonight’s Gospel lesson about Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and His concern that they know what He is doing so they can continue His life of service to others, some Christians actually believe that Jesus is talking about baptism and its relationship to Christ’s death on the cross.1 Perhaps there is a reason for this. They see the basin filled to the brim with water (John 13:5). They hear the command to wash that last bit of world’s grime off their body (John 13:8). And they can just about feel the dry towel gently wiping the remaining drops of water from them (John 13:5). All these actions associated with water seem to add up to one undeniable fact. Jesus is not really washing their feet. They believe something else must be going on during supper. They say Jesus is really baptizing them.2 Do you see the elephant in the room? We want to transform this action of Jesus, where He washes the disciples feet, into something else altogether. That is why we attempt to draw the dubious association with baptism. Really, we cannot stand the idea that Jesus, the Son of God, would actually get down on His hands and knees to clean off my dust covered feet. That menial work is reserved for the lowest class of slaves. God would not wait on me. We are just like the twelve men that shared supper with Jesus some two thousand years ago. We do not want to hear the reason why Jesus would do this sort of thing (John 13:12). We hope to look some place else like baptism as an explanation to what Jesus is doing. If all else fails, we too can play dumb like Peter does (John 13:6).3 In this case, ignorance is bliss. If you do not know what Jesus
Francis J. Moloney, S.D.B.; Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., editor, The Gospel of John, Volume 4, Sacra Pagina Series, (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1998), p. 375. 2 This is despite the face that the narrator tells us that Jesus never baptized anyone (John 4:2). 3 Peter, representing the world, shows that others do not accept how God loves the world. Ibid.,
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is doing, then you can be excused from following in His footsteps of loving the most horrid people in the entire world, the ones you know like the back of your hand. In the abstract, taking care of someone else is very easy. You can list off exactly how you will act. You can also predict with amazing accuracy how they will return your affection. In short, everything will go perfectly as planned. That is not how the real world behaves. Your best friend misunderstands you. Your relatives have never liked you. Your children fight with you over the smallest details. Your husband or wife tires of your bad habits and just wants you to change. These people who you see everyday of your life are the ones that Jesus expects you to love (John 13:34). That is a tall order and we fail miserably at the task. This section in John (John 13:1 - 17:26) is known as the “Last Discourse.”4 It functions as a final testament, something that was commonly done in Jewish writings.5 Points of commonality between this section of John and a last testament are: • Telling others about leaving and dying. – Departures are a fact of life. Sometimes, people learn this news during a meal.6 • More bad news is coming. – The leader explains that future threats are on the horizon.7 • Lead the ideal life. – Follow the example clearly set by the hero.8 • Go and do. – The hero tells his followers what is expected of them.9 Normally this includes the command to love one another.10 • God’s promises never end. – The leader reminds his disciples that God can be trusted.11 • Closing with praise of God. Almost every example of a last will and testament ends with a doxology.12
p. 374. 4 Moloney, The Gospel of John, p. 370. 5 Ibid., pp. 371, 377. 6 Ibid., p. 377. 7 Ibid. 8 Ibid. 9 Ibid. 10 Ibid. 11 Ibid. 12 Ibid., p. 378.

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John 13:1 before the festival of the Passover – John sets the betrayal of Jesus during the time when the lambs for the Passover are being prepared for death. his hour – This phrase could refer back to the marriage at Cana when Jesus tells Mary that it is not His hour (John 2:4). Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. – This is what Jesus came/comes to do. It “surpasses all imaginable loving.”13 The tense of these verbs is aorist. In other words, they are valid for all times.14 John 13:2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him – The narrator gives us privileged information that only increases the love that Jesus shows for the disciples since He washes Judas’ feet also. The Greek βεβληκότος ε ς τ ν καρδίαν can either mean “to put in heart” or “to make up one’s heart.”15 It should be read as if satan has made up his mind.16 It is not an emotional appeal that satan makes to Judas. John 13:3 he had come from God and was going to God – Christ’s source and destination is never in question. The real issue revolves around His followers and their beliefs. John 13:4 took off his outer robe – The verb τίθη ι found here brings to mind the work of the Good Shepperd (John 10:11, 15, 17, 18).17 John 13:5 he poured water into a basin – Jesus never baptizes anyone (John 4:2) but He does wash the feet of His followers. Yet, the Church continually does not see the need to serve others. John 13:6 Lord, are you going to wash my feet? – Peter, representing the world, shows that others do not accept how God loves the world.18
13 14

Moloney, The Gospel of John, p. 373-374. Ibid., p. 378. 15 Ibid. 16 Ibid. 17 Ibid. 18 Ibid., p. 374.

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John 13:7 later you will understand – This has been a common theme in John (John 2:22; 12:16; 12:23).19 At some time in the future, the followers of Jesus will see what is happening here. John 13:8 You will never wash my feet. – Despite what Moloney asserts, it is difficult to see this as a reference to baptism.20 Why do commentators insist on oblique interpretations of the text? Peter’s lack of understanding and his protests about what Jesus must do does not cause Jesus to abandon Peter. Unless I wash you, you have no share with me. – Baptism is the normal way that people are admitted into the church. This truth ignores the fact that this vignette is about service found in the washing of feet and not directly about baptism. Jesus tells His followers that they must allow Him to serve them. In this specific instance, it is Jesus who cleans the feet of the men around Him. This action of waiting on someone comes in many different ways. Christians accept this gift so that they may pass it on to others. John 13:9 Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head! – In other words, more is better. Peter expects that a complete bath by Jesus transforms Peter into a new creation. That is not the purpose of service. It is to help. It renders aid where needed. It does what is required and then moves on. John 13:10 but is entirely clean – Commentators that insist that this text is about baptism seem to forget this verse. If this was about baptism, then baptism only removes the last little spot in your life that happens to be on the part of you that comes in constant contact with the world. Obviously, that is not what the Church teaches on the subject. Therefore, this text is about service. John 13:11 he knew who was to betray him – The behavior of the disciples makes it clear that at least one of them will turn Jesus over to the authorities. John 13:12 Do you know what I have done to you? – There appears to be two different interpretations to the foot-washing with one found in verses 6-11 and the other in 12-20.21 The verses found in 12-20 are generally assumed
19 20

Moloney, The Gospel of John, p. 374. Ibid., p. 375. 21 Ibid., p. 371.

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to be a later tradition.22 Despite this understanding, it is clear that the entire section has been designed to be thought of a single unit.23 The verbs know, love, and act now apply to the disciples.24 They must see beneath the example of foot-washing and see what Jesus is talking about. The disciples need to repeat Christ’s action of love to the entire world, even to those who betray. The disciples must follow Christ’s command to do this. John 13:13 You call me Teacher and Lord – The dual role of instructor and ruler is needed for Jesus to make the following point. His students must continue what the leader’s example. Jesus does not deride those who call Him Rabbi. John 13:14 you also ought to wash one another’s feet – The rubber hits the road here. The people who call themselves Christians must serve others. John 13:15 an example – The Greek reads πόδειγ α at this point and this is the only use in the New Testament. It is associated with “exemplary death” in the LXX (2 Maccabees 6:28; 4 Maccabees 17:22-34; Sirach 44:16).25 you also should do as I have done to you. – Christians are not called to be morally perfect; rather Jesus asks those who follow Him to imitate His self giving.26 In other words, those people in the Church should see that giving yourself for others is the normal way of living. John 13:16 servants are not greater than their master – Do not expect a special exemption from your life of waiting on others. John 13:17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. – Blessing comes from entering into discipleship and living the life that Jesus modeled.27 John 13:18-20 (Missing from the reading) It is interesting to note that the Church continues to leave out the fact that sending and accepting the sent one is the same as receiving the Father.
22 23

Moloney, The Gospel of John, p. 371. Ibid. 24 Ibid., p. 275. 25 Ibid., p. 376. 26 Ibid. 27 Ibid., p. 379.

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The traditional lessons also removes the part that clearly states Jesus fully understands that He sends out disciples that will fail. John 13:31b Now the Son of Man has been glorified – Jesus will be lifted up (on the cross) to make God’s love known to all people.28 It is here on the cross that God is truly revealed.29 God has been glorified in him – God is given the glory in the life of Christ but God is also to be glorified in the lives of Christ’s followers. John 13:32 If God has been glorified in him – The glory of God is not like what the Caesars and Emperors of this world want. It is a life that ends in total service for the other and not completely taking the other for your own benefit. John 13:33 Little children – This is a term of endearment.30 But it also points out how much they do not understand and how many times they have or will fail.31 John 13:34 I give you a new commandment – As disciples, we must follow Jesus in giving ourselves up in death for others.32 The Latin for commandment mandatum is why this day is named Maundy Thursday. John 13:35 everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another – The demonstrations of love need to be so obvious that the whole world sees.

References
Moloney, S.D.B., Francis J.; Harrington, S.J., Daniel J., editor, The Gospel of John, Volume 4, Sacra Pagina Series, (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1998).

28 29

Moloney, The Gospel of John, p. 385. Ibid. 30 Ibid. 31 Ibid. 32 Ibid., p. 386.

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