Maundy Thursday is the day recognized by Christians in remembrance of Jesus’ last supper with the disciples before going to his crucifixion. This holy day is often honored with an evening service of somber worship concluding in silence.
Jesus’ Solidarity with Laborers: A Worker Justice Reflection on Maundy Thursday
By Reverend Jerry Folk
And during supper Jesus […] got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him […] After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 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. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” – John 13:3-5, 12-15.
These verses from the 13th chapter of the Gospel of John, which are read in most churches on the Thursday of Holy Week, reveal the heart and soul of Jesus as clearly and powerfully as any in the New Testament. Taking off his outer garment, Jesus appeared before his disciples as a slave would appear, clothed only in a tunic. Then he performed a task ordinarily performed only by a slave. He filled a basin with water, wrapped a towel around himself, and washed his followers’ feet. The meaning of this action seems clear enough in itself, especially if we remember that Jesus redefined greatness as service and made service the identifying mark of his followers. But knowing that his followers often failed to understand him, Jesus added words to this prophetic action to make it absolutely clear. He was setting an example which all his followers should emulate. “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” Of course Jesus isn’t speaking literally here. He isn’t simply commanding them to wash one another’s feet. The meaning of this act is much deeper than that, although the ritual foot-washing that takes place in many churches on Holy Thursday is itself very meaningful; it communicates more powerfully than any words could the message Jesus conveys in this action.
This story doesn’t speak directly to the issue of worker justice, but it is an example of the solidarity that Jesus showed throughout his life with those many of the world’s “Mighty Ones” consider “the Least among us,” among whom they often include all who labor for a living. Jesus’ solidarity, along with his powerful and public criticism of the Mighty, cost Jesus dearly. He paid for his solidarity with the Lowly, for the truth that he told and the love that he showed, with his life.
Throughout the ages, many others who sought to follow this example also paid dearly, sometimes even with their lives. Some of these people were Christians, others, like Mahatma Gandhi and Aung San Suu Kyi, were or are not. All of them helped to change the world. The liturgies of Holy Week, in which millions of Christians will participate this week, are intended to form Christians in Jesus’ way of love, humility and service and send us out into the world to change it. May we join in Jesus’ solidarity with laborers as we look toward the Cross.