Lectionary Commentaries for March 28, 2024
Maundy Thursday

from WorkingPreacher.org


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

Veronice Miles

“Unless I wash you, you have no share with me” (John 13:8b). These words leapt from the pages of Scripture as though daring me to remove my shoes and let Jesus wash my feet. And like Peter, my initial impulse was to say no: “You will never wash my feet” (verse 8). Yet that is what Jesus is asking us to do, to take off our shoes and let him wash our feet. 

The Gospel narrator begins this story by inviting the reader to stand with Jesus during the most consequential period in his life and ministry. In verses 1–3, we learn that everything is changing, and Jesus is the only one who seems to know. Jesus knows, perceives, or is aware of (Greek eido) the gravity of the moment and its implications for his life and for his disciples’ future. He is aware that his hour has come and that his ministerial journey in “this world” has come to an end. And he is confident that his relationship with God is secure and that he has loved (Greek agapao) “his own” without restraint and “to the end.” 

Two expressions are worth exploring in these initial verses. The phrase “to the end” (Greek telos, end) is somewhat ambiguous. It can function as a time marker that coincides with the “hour” of Jesus’ departure—Jesus loved them to the conclusion of his ministerial journey. Or it can function as the noun in a qualitative adjectival phrase—Jesus loved them completely, wholeheartedly, irrefutably. In either case, the narrator affirms that Jesus’ love is sustainable and without limit or equivocation.

The second is the narrator’s emphasis on love. Significantly, the narrator chooses the Greek verb agapao, meaning to prove or exhibit love through action. Jesus proved his love for his own by engaging in concrete practices that transformed their lives and preserved their soulish, physical, psychic, and material well-being. Through proclamation, teaching, and acts of healing, delivering, saving, welcoming, feeding, interceding, intervening, and advocating, Jesus evinced his love to the end. 

Jesus’ practice of love must have made the sting of Judas’s betrayal and capitulation to the devil’s influence even more painful (verses 2, 18–31a). 

The word “devil” (Greek diablo) means slanderer or false accuser, that which entices and deceives. The various translators acknowledge the devil’s presence but disagree about the entity’s capacity to influence Judas’s decision: the devil decides (New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition), puts the impulse into Judas’s heart (New Revised Standard Version, King James Version, New King James Version), or prompts Judas to act (New International Version). Importantly, diablo does not imply the power to supplant human will. Hence, Judas can choose whether to remain Jesus’ faithful disciple or to succumb to the diablo’s deceptive lure. Judas chooses the latter.

Against this backdrop of awareness, love, and betrayal, Jesus sits at table with his disciples for a final meal. Each of the Gospel writers recounts the meal, but they disagree about the meal’s significance and its connection to the Passover. The Synoptic Gospels situate the meal on the first evening of Passover, during which Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper, a deeply formative eucharistic practice for the Christian church. The Gospel of John tells a different story.

In the Fourth Gospel, the meal takes place the day before the Passover begins. Undeterred that the guests are already eating, Jesus leaves the table, removes his outer robe, ties a towel around his waist, pours water into a basin, and begins to wash his disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel. We don’t know if Peter was the first disciple Jesus approached or if he was simply the most reactive, but Peter will have none of it: “Lord, are you going to wash my feet? … you will never wash my feet” (verses 6, 8).

Foot washing was an accepted and expected act of hospitality toward guests whose feet were soiled from traveling the dusty roads of the villages and towns throughout ancient Palestine. The task was typically performed by servants in wealthier homes or by guests themselves in more meager homes. It was also common practice for servants to wash their masters’ feet or for students to wash their teachers’ feet. But protocol would not have supported a master washing his disciples’ feet. 

Peter’s objection, in other words, is not about foot washing per se, but about the disruptive nature of Jesus’ offer to wash his disciples’ feet. Not only does Peter view Jesus’ actions as a violation of protocol. He also views himself, and likely the others, as unworthy of such a great outpouring of love from the one they regard as Lord. And Peter was right: Jesus’ actions were improper. But he was also wrong: Peter’s awareness (Greek eido) of the gravity of the situation was lacking, as was his understanding (Greek ginosko) of the ritual’s significance. 

In verses 8–11, Jesus reveals the significance of the ritual: “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” The word “share” (Greek meros) implies division, portion, or piece, a reminder to Peter and the others that they are co-sharers with Jesus and, by implication, with one another. With this new understanding, Peter offers Jesus his hands, feet, and head. And though Jesus chides Peter for going a bit overboard, he knows Peter finally understands. 

Jesus also invites us to understand. “Do you know what I have done to you?” (verse 12). Jesus does not wash his disciples’ feet for the sake of instituting a new ritual. He is reminding us that a share with him includes following his example of sustained agapeic love for one another and for the many others we encounter along the way (verse 15). 

In verses 31–35, Jesus amplifies this idea, reminding us again that we are co-sharers with him. Throughout his life and ministry, Jesus revealed himself (Greek doxazo) as the Son of Man, God’s emissary on earth (12:44–50; 13:31). Thereby, he also glorified or made evident (Greek doxazo) God’s presence among us. Now that his journey is ending, Jesus invites his co-sharers to live as an expression of his presence on the earth: To exemplify agapeic love for one another, so that “everyone will know” we are his disciples. To embody his ministerial vision as our own and do the work necessary to bring that vision to fruition. 

On Maundy Thursday, we receive Jesus’ commandment anew: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” May we permit Jesus to lovingly wash our feet and, as agapeic co-sharers with Jesus, preserve one another’s soulish, physical, psychic, and material well-being—you know, wash one another’s feet. 


First Reading

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

Beth L. Tanner

Tonight is about rituals and stories as Christians around the world celebrate the institution of Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, or the Eucharist, depending on your tradition. Churches engage in different ways of celebration, from a simple communion service to a meal where all participants sit together at a table or tables, or as an interactive play of the event as narrated in the New Testament.

As we engage Exodus 12, it is essential to connect the Exodus text with the New Testament events without collapsing them into a single celebration. This night is neither a “Christian seder” nor “Passover.” While we share a large majority with our Jewish brothers and sisters, we do not and should not engage this night in the same way.

Passover celebrations this year will not occur until the Christian Fifth Sunday of Easter. In addition, seder rituals and liturgies were not practiced in the New Testament period, so the meal shared by Jesus and his disciples is not a seder as we know it today.1 There are also historical questions about this meal shared by Jesus and the disciples, including whether it was an actual Passover celebration with the lamb that was offered for sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem.2

So, if it is not a Christian seder, what should we do to weld the lectionary texts without flattening the two great faiths that share this Exodus text? One thing we can do is tell the story. Our present-day communion liturgies tell the story of salvation from creation to the exodus as the Passover Haggadah does, but it is here the traditions go into separate ways of telling the rest of the story.

The Christian communion liturgy continues through the life and death of Jesus, his resurrection, the birth of the church, and all the saints through time until we arrive at this table in this place on this night. What we share is one God whose story is salvation in all its forms: from enslavement, from sin, from disobedience, from hopelessness.

Tonight is the night of stories of salvation. Tonight is a chance to explain why we tell the story when we gather at the table. We tell the story so it becomes our story. We share this table because a meal is where the stories of the family are told. We Christians may tell our stories differently from our Jewish brothers and sisters, but we all sit together, break bread, and share the story of salvation. As Christians, we celebrate this night. We, too, use different elements, different names for the ritual, and different liturgies, but they all tell the story of salvation.

We also gather around two simple elements—bread and wine. When we see this simple meal, we should remember that these elements were the ones available even to the poorest of families. They are a physical manifestation of God’s demand to love the neighbor, the stranger, the widow, and the lost.

God wanted the inclusion of all families without causing a financial burden. These elements, bread and wine, were the staples of meals in all the known world at the time. They worked throughout the diaspora in all cultures. They represent God’s care and salvation that will not be limited by cultural or national borders or financial resources. The meal is the simplest, easiest, least expensive. It is meant not as a statement of status but as a statement of inclusion for all.

This night we tell the story with the simplest of meals to remind us of God’s love for all, especially those with meager tables in small homes; for Jesus and the disciples, it was not even their home, but one borrowed for the occasion. Let us tell the story and thank God for the simple pleasure of dining once again with our Lord.


  1. Martin Bodek, “A Brief History of the Haggadah,” Jewish Book Council, April 3, 2020, http://tinyurl.com/kb65s963.
  2. Jonahan Klawans, “Was Jesus’ Last Supper a Seder?,” Biblical Archaeology Society, December 14, 2023, http://tinyurl.com/4743jkah.


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

Rebecca Poe Hays

Maundy Thursday is all about remembering commandments—mandates (from the Latin mandatum)—that God has given to the worshiping community. As a complement to the stories of God giving instructions regarding Passover, Paul giving instructions regarding the Lord’s Supper, Jesus modeling service by washing feet, and the overarching divine command to love others, the reading from Psalm 116 voices the psalmist’s commitment to keep these commandments. 

An overview of Psalm 116

Psalm 116 is one of the “Hallel Psalms,” a description that reflects the characteristic call to praise the Lord (Hebrew often uses the term hallelu-yah) that recurs in Psalms 113–118. This group of psalms is also characterized by frequent references to God’s deliverance of the Israelites, and especially the deliverance from Egypt, which likely accounts for the association of these psalms with the celebration of Passover. 

The structure and content of Psalm 116 make it a thanksgiving psalm. Like others in this category of psalms, the psalm begins with an expression of gratitude, tells the story of how God has acted on behalf of the psalmist, and concludes with a renewed expression of gratitude or call to give thanks. Psalm 116 actually features repeated narrations of divine deliverance:

  • God listened to the psalmist (verses 1–2)
  • God saved the psalmist from a low place (verses 3–6)
  • God delivered the psalmist from death (verse 8)
  • God loosened the psalmist’s bonds (verse 16)

For the psalmist, God’s acts of hearing (verses 1–2) and defending (verses 6, 8) prove that God is gracious, righteous, and merciful (verse 5)—therefore worthy of the psalmist’s love, trust, worship, and obedience. The observation in verse 15 that God sees as “precious” the “death of his faithful ones” should not be understood as saying that God enjoys these deaths but rather that God considers the lives of those in the faith community to be precious. Their deaths are costly to God, which is yet another indicator of God’s worthiness to receive the worship and obedience of the psalmist. 

The final section of the psalm (verses 12–19) is an extended promise the psalmist makes to God. Because of who God is and what God has done, the psalmist vows to offer sacrifices to God. This ritual involves lifting up the “cup of salvation,” which became a very literal part of the Jewish worship practices during the Passover meal. 

Significantly, the psalmist’s offering of thanksgiving sacrifices is done in the presence of the whole community: in the presence of all God’s people (verses 14, 18), in the courts of the house of the Lord, in the middle of Jerusalem (verse 19). Telling the story of who God is and what God has done is part of worship, part of thanksgiving, and therefore part of the life of obedience to which God calls God’s people. 

Psalm 116 and Holy Week

As with the other psalms that appear in the lectionary readings for Holy Week, Psalm 116 provides a kind of emotional-psychological soundtrack to the events the Gospels narrate. This psalm draws our attention forward to the promise of ultimate salvation that lies on the other side of Friday’s crucifixion. 

Distress, anguish, affliction, and death are still ahead of us—both within the story of the passion and in the lives of those worshiping today—but we can find hope and inspiration in the confident testimony of the psalmist. The God of the past heard, cared, and delivered, so we can be sure that God will continue to do so. “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death [and suffering] of his faithful ones” (verse 15), so we can be sure that God does not take our pain lightly. At the same time, the psalmist does not try to minimize the pain that has been experienced. This song-prayer is about resilience in the face of hardship and not about denial of hardship’s reality. 

In Christian tradition, the Eucharist (from the Greek word eucharistia, “thanksgiving”) is an outgrowth of the Passover meal that included the “cup of salvation” associated with Psalm 116 and its promises to offer thanks and worship to the God who saves. The celebration of the Lord’s Supper in Christian worship—which is itself another commandment, or mandate, that Jesus gives to his followers—is therefore an echo of the kind of thanksgiving Psalm 116 exemplifies. 

A model prayer

In preaching Psalm 116 on Maundy Thursday, one might consider embracing the role of the psalms as models for our own prayers. The psalmist of Psalm 116 goes through a process of remembering and naming challenging times, acknowledging and celebrating divine response, and worshiping and vowing obedience to God. The first-person language of the psalm invites us each to take on the psalmist’s voice and consider what stories, experiences, and promises we might have to share:

“I love the LORD because he has heard my voice and my supplications.” (verse 1)

  • When have you cried out to God and received an answer of some kind?
  • What prayers have you seen answered?

“What shall I return to the LORD for all his bounty to me?” (verse 12) 

  • What has God done for you that deserves thanks?

“I will … call on the name of the LORD; I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people. … I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice!” (verses 13–19) 

  • What vows can you make to God as a “thanksgiving sacrifice”?
  • Who might need to hear your story? 
  • What can you do this week to obey God’s commands, which are summarized with “love God and love neighbor”? 

Second Reading

Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Israel Kamudzandu

Is the church, or the body of Christ—then and now—in urgent need of corrective lenses? The Corinthian church was overruled by a culture of selfishness and failed to proclaim the meaning of the gospel to all humanity. The 21st-century global church has fallen short in proclaiming the meaning of the Lord’s death and resurrection as well. Issues of individualism, power dynamics, biases, and exclusion have brought trauma, sorrow, and anguish to the body of Christ. Hence, the question of corrective lenses can be answered by an affirmative response. 

Theologically and ecclesially speaking, the fault is not about the body of Christ or the Lord’s Supper, but it is about human beings who have failed to share the love of Jesus Christ with the “other.” With this background, we can appreciate Paul’s appeal to the value, role, and function of the Lord’s Table as a space for solidarity, love, and community building. 

When church members lose sight of God’s mission and gospel, and develop the inability to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit, a plethora of issues such as schisms, splinters, cults, cliques, selfishness, complacency, assimilation, and idolatry will take over the entire life of the church.  Such is the impetus of apostle Paul’s writings to the Corinthian church. Paul the founder, pastor, and perhaps overseer of the Corinthians intentionally responds to all the problems by offering divine corrective lenses for viewing Christian conduct in the partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Breaking bread and sharing the blood of Jesus is intended to foster solidarity and hospitality among worshipers. 

Instead, the Corinthians, like any other cultural human beings, were abusing the Lord’s Supper. Social discrimination and alienation of the poor were taking place during communion. The vulnerable ones and the ones who had social stigma were made to be invisible (11:22). Power dynamics and elitism had taken over the communal heart of the gospel. True salvation is about the transformation of the human condition, which in many cases is characterized by chronic brokenness. In a Corinthian-like culture, those in power live with an assumption that they must strive at the expense of the poor and vulnerable. The downtrodden are loved by God, and the church should love like that too. The Corinthians and the 21st-century global church must emulate Jesus Christ’s example of being hospitable to all people.

Paul’s theology informs the Corinthians about the communal nature and solidarity of the Lord’s Supper. Individualism and silo mindsets are contrary to Jesus Christ’s sacrificial giving of his life for others. Similarly, the Corinthians were summoned to embody and live out the shared gift of salvation with all people. The breaking of bread and sharing the cup are a manifestation of the Messiah’s definitive sacrificial love. 

Table fellowship or a buffet style of dining was not part of life for the early Christians in Corinth. Competing ethos, mores, religious claims, political claims to power, and disregard for the vulnerable were also an ever-present reality in Paul’s Corinthian church. First Corinthians 11:23–26 cautioned them, and still warns us, of the danger of taking the Lord’s Supper for granted. 

The Lord’s Supper overrules cultural, ethnic, and tribal traditions, and the gospel, or good news, of the meal is that it is a celebration of God’s love, revealed in the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the Messiah of all creation. The apostle Paul did not invent the Lord’s Supper; it is a divine legacy, intentionally handed down from past Christian generations (“For I received from the Lord what I also handed to you … ,” verse 23), to those who are yet to be incorporated into the trinitarian mission of God.

In other words, Paul exhorts Christians then and now to always leave their cultures, intellectualism, ego, and status on the doorstep of the church. Hence, sanctuary worship and fellowshipping as one diverse family are the hallmarks of the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

In our attempt to find the meaning, appropriation, and application of 1 Corinthians 11:23–26, a few caveats are needed. First, Paul ministered in a context that was imbued with divisions, religious pride, and silencing of vulnerable voices, including women. The apostle Paul does not oppose the fellowship, but he condemns the practices that were dehumanizing. Divisions, schisms, theological differences, opinions, intellectualism, and national pride are enemies of the gospel. These divisions and vicious discourses within the Corinthian village or community were embarrassing to some members of the church. 

Second, the claims of superiority, power, genealogy, and status were celebrated in the Roman Empire. At the heart of Paul’s pastoral teaching is the holistic understanding that the empire does not overrule the gospel. Paul was teaching the Corinthians, and still teaches us, that like political parties that destroy and divide societies, divisions and splinters destroy the church and do harm to laypeople. 

There is an African proverb that says, “When elephants fight, the grass suffers,” and this is Paul’s message to the Corinthians and to the 21st-century church. Washing, sharing, or posting the church’s dirty linen on mass media or in public injures the body of Christ. 

The third caveat is that Christians were bringing imperial social distinctions into the life of worship and the partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Through these three caveats, we can begin to grasp Paul’s condemnation of the way in which the circular world was shaping and informing worship in the Corinthian church. 

The apostle Paul had taught the Corinthians various traditions, ethics, and instructions handed down orally from the early people of the Way and to the universal church. These legacies were to guide the Corinthians in their newfound freedoms and enthusiasm for witnessing and spiritually living out the meaning of the gospel. The gospel that Paul had preached amidst diverse competing claims was simply a message of God’s love, manifested in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

In other words, the Lord’s Supper, or the table itself, is a sacred site overshadowed by the Holy Spirit’s presence, whose work is to build unity in the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:4–6). Paul’s language in these three verses is deeply sacramental and theologically grounded in the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ on the cross. The church should not perpetuate human brokenness; instead, believers must build bridges of solidarity, empathy, kindness, and love. 

The letter to the Corinthians is no longer for them but is a letter addressed to present believers. With the lack of justice and practical compassion, empathy, and kindness, the human family can only be transformed by teaching and proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ, the one who is the embodiment of God’s love, justice, and compassion. 

First, the Corinthians are summoned to claim their place within God’s covenantal new diverse community, a covenant sealed and authenticated in/by the blood of Jesus. Second, Christians are to give thanks for God’s offer of salvation, as they share the cup in every worship setting. Third, Corinthians and all believers should claim their share in this present blessing of which their hope is guaranteed (verses 24–26). 

Theologically, when sacraments are secularized and neglected, faith and spiritual formation are lost. When conventional, political elitism and intellectual social patterns prevail in the church, leaders will lose sight of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. The Lord’s Supper should not be taken for granted, or else believers’ actions and treatment of others will result in condemnation (verses 29, 32). 

Maybe it is time to rethink having Holy Communion in every worship service to anchor children, youth, and new faith seekers into the mission of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the “already and not yet” season, Christian practitioners are to be intentionally focused on celebrating the Eucharist until the second coming of Jesus Christ (11:26; Luke 22:16-18). Faith, spirituality, love, and hope are essentially practical and are given form and shape when humanity acts in self-giving love and hospitality.  

for this text is forthcoming.