Lectionary Commentaries for April 6, 2023
Maundy Thursday

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Jennifer Garcia Bashaw

The Johannine last meal and foot washing scene conveys a decidedly different message than the Passover meal accounts in the Synoptic Gospels. Yes, the action takes place at a meal that occurs before Jesus is arrested and during the course of the night, Jesus predicts Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial. However, the Synoptics keep their focus on the Lord’s Supper and its commemorative symbolism for Jesus’ sacrifice, while John’s narrative takes a more cosmic and collaborative perspective. When Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, he is not just preparing followers for his death, he is demonstrating a new way to live in a corrosive, power-hungry world.

The passage begins with language that fits well into John’s dualistic story world: “Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father.” John had been hinting at the coming of Jesus’ hour since chapter two and now the hour had arrived—there is a sense of apocalyptic purpose here. John has set up “the world” as an opponent to God in several places already.1 Jesus departing from the world to go to the Father may serve to highlight the contrast between the earthly and heavenly, finalizing a separation between those who will embrace him and those who will reject. This polarity is certainly exaggerative, part of John’s writing style, but it also sets up a scene that forces a choice between the way of Jesus and the way of the world.

To further solidify this dualism, the next verses contrast the activity of Satan—the evil personified and called the “ruler” of this world by John (12:31)—with the actions of Jesus. Satan may be the force behind Judas’ betrayal (13:2) but Jesus, the one from God who had been given all things by the Father (13:3), was about to show the disciples how to resist such evil. Jesus’ actions and words set an example for them, demonstrating how something expected: love, and something unexpected: humiliation, could work together to reverse the effect of evil in the world.

Humility is the word usually employed to describe Jesus’ disrobing and washing the disciples’ dirty feet and that is an appropriate signifier, but the action Jesus performs is also humiliating in a first-century Mediterranean context. Preachers love to clarify that the task of washing feet fell to lowly servants but it is more accurate to say that it was usually performed by lowly female servants. As much as it pains me as a woman commentator to say it, the fact that Jesus takes on the task of a female servant is extra humiliating, especially in the eyes of the disciples. The shock and resistance we see in Peter’s response, “You will never wash my feet!” (13:8) seems understandable when viewed through the lens of honor/shame and gender dynamics in the ancient world. When Peter suggests that Jesus wash his hands and head as well, he is trying to force Jesus out of the female servant position into the role of a male, religious leader. Don’t wash my feet, baptize me! But Jesus pushes back against his discomfort because his humiliating role reversal is central to the lesson he is teaching the disciples.

The prophetic act of washing their feet is so counter-cultural, in fact, that Jesus cannot leave it as just a demonstration. So that they fully understand what he is teaching, he gives an explanation after the washing. “Do you know what I have done to you?,” he says, “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (13:12-14). Jesus is shocking them into a realization about the nature of true power. Lords and teachers usually sat at the head of the tables, using their power and authority to preside over meals. That is how a hierarchical, patriarchal world operates. Jesus, the Lord and Teacher from God, disrobes, kneels, and cleanses his guests like an overlooked scullery maid. This is a reversal of epic proportions, not just for their culture, but for any culture in the world.

He has to be very clear: “ For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, slaves are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them” (John 3:15-16). Jesus identifies himself as the slave and messenger of God so that they might realize that they will be his slaves and messengers in the world and follow the example or pattern (hypodeigma) of humility/humiliation.2 Such a reversal of power—one that serves in humility and performs the work of slaves rather than claiming and coveting male authority—is the antidote to the evil pattern of the world.

In the last part of this passage (John 13:31-35), Jesus provides his disciples with the force that will empower them to live out the counter-cultural example he has set. Jesus’ glorification comes because he is willing to suffer and die—it is the means by which God glorifies him. Since such an example is so difficult to follow, they will need to support each other. The new commandment Jesus gives is not the “love God, love neighbor” of the Synoptics but one that emphasizes the importance of resisting evil together, in community and through their love for one another. Everyone will know Jesus’ disciples by their love, yes, but also by their willingness to be humiliated, to value servanthood, and to work to reverse the hierarchy that evil has set up and perpetuated in the world.


  1. Francis J. Moloney suggests that the word “world” (kosmos) means several different things in John: (1) a “geographical space”; (2) God’s beloved creation under God’s continual care; and (3) God’s opponents, or those people who reject Jesus. See “God, Eschatology, and ‘This World’: Ethics in the Gospel of John,” in Johannine Ethics: The Moral World of the Gospel and Epistles of John, ed. Sherri Brown and Christopher W. Skinner (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2017), 210–11. In this chapter, it appears that all three of the meanings of “the world” may come into play.
  2. Jo-Ann Brant points out that the word translated as example or pattern (hypodeigma) is found also in Hebrews 4:11; 8:6; 9:23; James 5:10; and 2 Peter 2:6, all references to models of humility. In John, A Paideia Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 202.

First Reading

Commentary on Exodus 12:1-4 [5-10] 11-14

Vanessa Lovelace

The Israelites’ escape from Egypt is a well-known story.1

Commentaries on the book of Exodus often place the exodus story within the literary unity of Exodus 12:1-15:21. The headings given to this section frequently vary from “Out of Egypt” and “Escape from Egypt” to “Escape from Pharaoh,” in reference to the Israelites’ escape from oppression at the hands of Pharaoh in Egypt. While each of these headings correctly infers breaking free from Pharaoh’s control, it also suggests the freedom to become a new people with a new God. This literary unity is not only about the departure from Egypt, but also the Passover, God’s act of setting Israel free.

“Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt land”

God commissioned Moses and Aaron to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt. However, there are two competing narratives concerning the nature of Israel’s departure from Egypt. On one hand is the version made popular by the Negro spiritual “Go Down Moses.” In this account, God tells Moses that God has seen the oppression of the Israelites and commands Moses to go to Pharaoh to say, “bring my people, the Israelites out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:10; 6:10 New Revised Standard Version).

On the other hand, God tells Moses to approach the king of Egypt and say that the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has requested that they be released to go on a three-day journey in the wilderness to sacrifice to their deity (Exodus 3:18; 9:13; see also 4:21-23). The two different accounts for the purpose and length of the people’s departure from Egypt, coupled with the change in title for Egypt’s ruler and the names for God’s people, suggest a composite nature of the narrative.

“When Israel was in Egypt land”

Pharaoh denies Moses and Aaron’s request to let the Israelites go. God uses Pharaoh’s obstinacy to cause a number of plagues to befall Pharaoh and the Egyptians as a show of God’s power. Exodus 12:1 interrupts the execution of the final plague, the death of the firstborn in Egypt (Exodus 11:4-5) until Exodus 12:29-36, to introduce the instructions for the Passover feast. God commands Moses and Aaron to tell the people to prepare for the Passover, (Hebrew pesach), the conclusion of which will signal an end their oppression at the hand of Pharaoh.

However, before they can go free the Israelites must negotiate a space of liminality—the not yet; the betwixt and between. Liminality is the space that ritual participants occupy, where they no longer hold the status of their former selves in their community, but they have not yet crossed the threshold into the status of their new selves. In Exodus 12:1-14 the rite of passage begins with the Israelites’ status as slaves to Pharaoh (their old identity), advances to a period of preparation for the next stage (liminality), and concludes with crossing over into a new status as the people of God (their new identity). However, they are still in the land of Egypt on the verge of departure, so freedom is still only a future hope. The occasion is fraught with danger and uncertainty, but also possibility.

God commands Moses and Aaron to instruct the people regarding the preparations for the Passover (Exodus 12:1-4) and the future celebration of the festival (Exodus 12:14 [15-20]). First, the Passover will commence with the institution of a new calendar: “This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you” (Exodus 12:2). Each month in the Jewish calendar is marked by the new moon. The word month (chodesh) in Hebrew is literally “new moon.”

Next, God tells them that on the tenth of the month each family is to take a lamb or kid goat large enough to feed an entire household. However, if the household is too small to consume an entire lamb, then it is to join its nearest neighbor to consume the meat together (12:3–4). Nothing shall be wasted. Although the partaking of the lamb occurs in each household, it has a larger communal aspect as the entire congregation of Israel takes part.

“Let my people go”

On the fourteenth day of the month the people are to gird their loins, put their sandals on their feet, and take their staff in their hands, for they are to eat the meat hurriedly (Exodus 12:11). The expression to “gird one’s loins” likely sounds foreign to modern ears. However, children’s picture Bibles often portray ancient Israelites in flowing, ankle-length tunics with a waistband or belt. Underneath they wore a girdle or loin-covering, a cloth to cover the sexual organs. The length of the tunics didn’t allow for quick movement or strenuous labor. Therefore, they would take the bottom of the tunic and tuck it between their legs like a pair of shorts, tying the extra fabric around the waist in a knot or tucking it into the waist belt. By girding their loins, they would be prepared to leave in haste.

God explains that the meal is the Passover of the Lord because God would pass over the land of Egypt on the night of the fifteenth day of the month, striking down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human and animal, whose house did not have the blood of the slaughtered animal on its door frame (Exodus 12:7, 12). The blood was a sign to the people of God’s deliverance of Israel, not for God to recognize which house to spare from judgment.

While the story of the two independent traditions of the plagues and the Passover function to separate the Israelites as God’s people from the Egyptians and other peoples in the land, many may find the violence done to the non-Israelites hard to accept. Nevertheless, Passover is a festival celebrated by the Jewish people in remembrance of God’s deliverance of their ancestors from bondage in Egypt, a past event with ongoing future significance.


  1. Commentary first published on this site on March 29, 2018.


Commentary on Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19

Joel LeMon

Psalm 116 begins with a confession of love and ends with a call for praise.1

Only selected verses from the psalm appear in the lectionary for this Maundy Thursday. Yet any exposition of Psalm 116 should include the entire text. It contains a full account of what it means to trust God through challenging circumstances. As the liturgical calendar moves through the final days of Jesus’s ministry prior to his death, it is particularly important to keep in mind the psalmist’s reflections about the experience of suffering, doubt, and hope.

Throughout this text, the psalmist speaks to a number of audiences. In the main, she addresses her community. But during the middle of the psalm, and especially at the end, she talks directly to God (verses 8, 16-19). And at one point, she even talks to her own soul (verse 7).

Despite these multiple addressees, the psalm can be divided into two main parts. The first part relates a thanksgiving of God’s saving activity (verses 1-11). This testimony to God’s faithfulness gives way to the second part (verses 12-19), which focuses on the vows that the psalmist will fulfill in response to God’s work.

A testimonial

The opening lines of the psalm suggest that the psalmist loves God because God hears her when she calls YHWH’s name (verses 1-4); “I love the Lord because he has heard my voice and my supplication.” According to the logic of the psalm, God’s character and power require that if God hears her, then God will surely act. Thus, the psalmist can confess her love at the outset not explicitly for what God has done, but simply for the fact that God hears her in the midst of her trouble.

The psalm also provides vivid detail about the psalmist’s trouble. The psalmist felt “the snares of death,” “the pangs of Sheol,” “distress and anguish” (verse 3). She has been “brought low” (verse 6) to the brink of death (verse 8). As she recalls those difficult times, she quotes herself, “I am greatly afflicted” (verse 10). She adds that she used to say: “everyone is a liar” (verse 11). It is worth remembering at this point that according to ancient forensic practice, testimony alone could be enough to bring about a death sentence. Lies would have had devastating consequences. Perhaps she is indicting her whole community because she has so suffered so much from false accusations.

In addition to reporting her past complaints, the psalmist recalls a petition, how she called on “the name of the LORD” (verse 4). To call the deity by name — saying “O YHWH, I pray, save my life” — is to bring two incompatible realities into contact with one another: God’s power and the psalmist’s suffering (verse 4). She is calling the deity to attend, to hear about how things have gone so wrong. God’s reputation cannot sustain such a disordered situation to endure. If YHWH hears one calling YHWH by name, then there will be a resolution.

Indeed, the psalm suggests that calling on the name of YHWH has worked. The psalmist could hardly get one foot in front of another, stumbling and blinded by tears (verse 8). Yet now she is now walking before God (verse 9) “in the land of the living.” God’s response to the psalmist has brought about restoration, new life in the midst of death.

A vow of praise

There is a well-established liturgical pattern in the Psalms, that is, in response to God’s gracious acts, the psalmists make vows to praise God and offer sacrifices of thanksgiving. The second part of the psalm (verses12-19) takes up the topic of vows, detailing what the psalmist can do in response to God. The psalmist has experienced God’s power and is eager to acknowledge it, to give something back to the one who has given her so much (verse 12). This “returning” praise to God acknowledges the gratitude one feels to God. Moreover, it provides a witness to others about the power of God, who is able to bring someone back from the brink of death (verse 3).

Within these vows of praise, the psalmist offers a maxim about how God views the death of God’s people. The NRSV translates verse 15 this way: “Precious (Hebrew: yaqar) in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones.” The translation of yaqar largely preserves the wording of the King James Version of 1611. However, over 400 years the English word “precious” has undergone significant semantic drift. To be clear, the context does not suggest that God takes delight in the death of the faithful, like one would delight in a “precious” stone or a “precious” child. “Precious” in this context suggests a costliness to God. God takes death or the threat of death seriously. And the psalmist’s suffering up to the point of death was grievous to God.

Salvation from the threat of death came to the psalmist after she called on the name of God (verse 4). In the latter verses of the psalm, she calls on the name of God twice more, but in the gratitude for God’s acts (verses 13, 17). YHWH’s name is on her lips as she lifts up “the cup of salvation.” (verse 13), a libation in thanksgiving for what God had done.

Of course, in the context of the Christian liturgy, “the cup of salvation” is associated with the Lord’s Supper, the sacrament we celebrate on Maundy Thursday. In the Christian appropriation of this phrase, the ritual of a libation of thanksgiving in the temple receives new significance through the life and death of Jesus. In the original context of the psalm and in the Christian sacraments, the “cup of salvation” marks the gracious work of God in the world. God has done it in the past, and is doing in now. Like the Psalmist and our Lord Jesus Christ at the Last Supper, we assume a posture of gratitude for what God has done, and how God’s mercy and grace transforms death into life (verses 3-4, 8-9).


  1. Commentary first published on this site on April 18, 2019.

Second Reading

Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Sammy Alfaro

The main problem the Apostle Paul seeks to correct in his first letter to the Corinthian congregation is their divisiveness. Three times Paul directly addresses the issue of division as if he were trying to stomp out a fire (see 1 Corinthians 1:10-12; 3:4-5; 11:17-18). Ironically, Paul criticizes the Corinthians for coming “together as a church” only to exhibit the divisions present in their gatherings (1 Corinthians 11:18). But what really irks Paul is that divisions would be present even during Jesus’ mandated celebration of the Lord’s Supper, which was meant to be a unifying commemoration of the body of Christ. As a remedy to their divisions, Paul briefly outlines the tradition of the Lord’s Supper, highlighting its meaning in three main orientations: past, present, and future.

First, Paul’s restatement of the Lord’s Supper is presented as being a handing down of a tradition, which began with the Lord Jesus himself. Gordon D. Fee comments that “the verbs ‘received’ and ‘passed on,’ which occur again in combination later in the letter (15:3), are technical terms from Paul’s Jewish heritage for the transmission of religious instruction.”1 Thus, by tracing the origin of the institution of the Lord’s Supper back to the original source, Jesus, Paul aims to demonstrate the illegitimacy of the Corinthian dinner gatherings, which have nothing to do with the unifying commemorative meal established by Jesus in the past.

Indeed, Paul rebukes the Corinthians for gathering merely to eat and get drunk, rather than sharing their time and meal with everyone in the congregation regardless of their social status (1 Corinthians 11:20-22). Some left these dinner parties hungry; others were humiliated (verses 21-22). What is more, the Corinthians had the audacity to refer to their gatherings as a church gathering. For Paul, this was to demean the institution of the Lord’s Supper, which originally was celebrated by Jesus and his disciples on a religious day for all Jewish people. Just as the Jewish Passover served to connect people with an event from the past, the Lord’s Supper was a solemn reenactment connecting believers with the atoning sacrifice of their Lord.

The next time the Corinthians gathered to partake of the Lord’s Supper, Paul’s careful repetition of Jesus’ instructions would serve to remind them that the elements pointed back to the night of his betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion (1 Corinthians 11:23). Thus, they were commanded to keep the death of Jesus at the center of the commemoration of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus’ action of breaking the bread (verse 24) was a reminder of his broken body on the cross, and the cup of the covenantal sacrificial pouring out of his blood (verse 25). The Lord’s Supper, then, was a solemn time for looking back at the atoning sacrifice made on their behalf by Jesus Christ and the eternal salvation that it accomplished. It was not a time to indulge in partying; for that they had their homes (verse 22)!

The present orientation of the Lord’s Supper relates to the understanding of it as an act of proclaiming the death of Jesus. Paul highlights this in the first part of his explanatory comment: “for as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death” (1 Corinthians 11:26). Participating in the Lord’s Supper serves as a proclamation to everyone who is present that Jesus died for their sins. Thus, it is a time for repentance not only for those participating in the Lord’s Supper, but also for those in attendance who are hearing the gospel through it. Uniting to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, then, was an act of proclaiming the death of Jesus and announcing its atoning efficacy for everyone in attendance.

The celebration of the Lord’s Supper is a theological reenactment of Jesus’ death. As the Jewish people annually celebrated Passover acting out their ancestors’ ancient Exodus from Egypt, the Lord’s Supper served as a scripted object lesson meant to instruct the congregation of the meaning and significance of Jesus’ death. As more than mere actors in a play, those partaking of the holy bread and cup become living epistles of the divine drama.

The future orientation of the Lord’s Supper is associated with the anticipation of the Lord’s return mentioned in Paul’s explanatory note when he tells the Corinthians to do this “until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). During the Lord’s Supper, believers look forward to the future great gathering in which they will celebrate the same feast being present with the Lord. This is what Jesus promised when he told his disciples: “Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (Mark 14:25). At this future event, all of those that have gone before us will be present and we will drink and eat with the Lord and one another as he promised his disciples.

The celebration of the Lord’s Supper, then, is a proleptic act announcing that future gathering that will take place at the consummation of the ages, which as the church of Christ we eagerly await. Seen in this way, every time the church gathers in the present to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we unite with the church of the past, anticipating that future reunion with the saints in heaven. The past, present, and future aspects of the partaking of the bread and the cup form an integral part of the sacred feast. The unity of the church in its past, present, and future dimensions is envisaged beautifully in the restatement of the Lord’s Supper by Paul. The church gathers to remember the benefits of Jesus’ atoning death, proclaim the good news of his saving death, and announce the return of the Lord with whom the church will be reunited one day.


  1. Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 2014), 607.