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Mandatum Novum The New Commandment

DEVOTION – Maundy Thursday

It takes conviction and effort to be willing to do the up-close and dirty work
of washing a fellow sinner with God’s Word of grace.

Our annual commemoration of the night before Jesus’ crucifixion is known as “Maundy Thursday.” Though it is difficult to be certain, most church historians think that the word maundy is derived from the Latin translation of Jesus’ words, spoken that night, as found in John 13:34: “A new commandment [mandatum novum] I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”

What could be “new” about this commandment? Jesus had often instructed His disciples to love their neighbors as themselves, and even to love their enemies. At this time, however, Jesus raised the bar considerably. Each believer is to love his fellow Christian “as I have loved you.” In other words, the depth of our love for one another is to be measured by Jesus’ own humble, self-sacrificial love shown to us.

That same night the Lord gave a very practical lesson in how to demonstrate this kind of love. In the upper room, when none of the disciples were willing to perform the servant’s task of washing the feet of the others, Jesus Himself wrapped a towel around His waist and proceeded to do so. Peter was aghast, but Jesus’ reply to him looked beyond the simple chore at hand. His focus was on a greater need, and a greater truth.

“If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me. . . . He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” (John 13:8, 10)

Jesus was using a visual aid to impart a lesson about the forgiveness of sins. The disciples (except for Judas) were already clean, through their God-given faith in Christ. On their daily walk through this sinful world, their “feet” would never be untouched by faults, failures, and broken commandments. They had the same privilege that we enjoy of bringing these sins to Jesus for daily cleansing, through repentance and reliance on His atoning grace. The trusting heart gladly accepts the free gift that Jesus daily offers, marveling that the Son of God is willing to do this “dirty work” for us sinners.

But this dirty work is not only a humble service that each Christian needs. It is also a humble service that each Christian owes, for Jesus said, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:14-15).

Don’t feel obligated to grab a bowl of water and kneel before your dinner guests to bathe their feet—that is no longer our custom. Do, however, make it your aim to love your fellow Christians as Jesus loved you, by extending forgiveness—yours and the Lord’s—to your fellow sinners.


Make your forgiving love proactive, without waiting for another to make the first move.


Make your forgiving love humble, without thought for your own image or self-interest.


Make your forgiving love personal, with face-to-face and heart-to-heart compassion.


Make your forgiving love unconditional, without the expectation of repayment or favor.

Loving as Jesus did is never easy. Because of sin that remains in us, it’s rarely our first impulse to take the initiative to go to people “where they are.” It takes conviction and effort to be willing to do the up-close and dirty work of washing a fellow sinner with God’s Word of grace. But remember that Jesus’ blood cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7), and that He always lives to make intercession for us with the Father (Hebrews 7:25). Knowing that, we can be confident that we have not only been bathed, but are also daily washed by the Lord Himself. Our hearts will then be filled with the love that is inspired by Jesus’ humble service to us, and His “new commandment” will be one that is a joy to fulfill!

Bruce Naumann is associate pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.