The maundy in Maundy Thursday means “commandment,” from the Latin mandatum. The commandment in view is Jesus’s famous words in John 13:34–35:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
In this passage, we find a command, an illustration, and a promise. Jesus answers our what, how, and why. He tells his disciples to “love one another” as “I have loved you” so that “all people will know that you are my disciples.”
Here in his final hours, Jesus provides his disciples, and future Christians, with the key to being distinct from the rest the world as followers of the Son of God.
The first part of the command is simple: Love one another. Jesus is preparing the men whom he’d loved dearly for the last three years for the trials and suffering ahead.
They were about to be commissioned to do a work that would change the world forever, and have eternal implications on the souls of every human being for generations to come. Jesus knew Satan had plans to hinder the mission. Jesus’s remedy, at least in part, is the modest commandment to love one another.
Though it may be simple and memorable, anyone that has tried it recognizes its challenge. Love requires selflessness and sacrifice. Love demands that we put others before ourselves and give up time, resources, and even our own lives for the sake of others’ good. Love is neither what we’re inclined to do or think about doing, apart from grace. Jesus recognized the disciple’s propensity towards self-love and the challenge to love others, so not only did he leave them with a command, he left them with an illustration.
Jesus doesn’t provide a simple way out or leave the disciples with an easy excuse. Not only does he tell them to “love one another,” but he sets a standard that can only be illustrated by him and accomplished through divine intervention. He tells them to love each other “as I have loved you.” Anyone that has paused and pondered the life of Jesus in the most basic way quickly recognizes the weight of this command.
The illustration doesn’t conflict with Paul’s reading of the law in Galatians 5:14: “The whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Rather, it complements Paul’s words. According to John Piper, Jesus is, in essence, saying,
Here is what I mean by “as yourself.” Watch me. I mean, just as you would want someone to set you free from certain death, so you should set them free from certain death. That is how I am now loving you. My suffering and death is what I mean by “as yourself.” You want life. Live to give others life. At any cost.
Jesus now puts a living image with Paul’s, and the Old Testament’s, standard of “as yourself.” We are so prone to overlook the many ways in which we love ourselves. We easily justify why we need not do certain things for others that we do for ourselves.
But Jesus’s life provides us with a model that can’t be mistaken, an illustration that can’t be ignored. Jesus’s entire life embodied the meaning of “as yourself” — which is why he could say, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
The promise is an honor — to be a known disciple and follower of Jesus, who is the God-man. There is no other name that we should feel as privileged to be associated with as that of Jesus. But many want to be associated with his name without making his sacrifice to love.
Jesus tells his disciples that if they love one another as he has loved them, “all people will know that you are my disciples.” In order to show our allegiance to Jesus, we may attempt just about anything other than loving one another. We put up signs in our yards, post quotes on social media, and add bumper stickers to our car. All these may express a genuine heart, but they mean nothing if we do not love other Christians — who can, in fact, be some of the most difficult people for us to love.
The way we treat and care for one another speaks volumes about the gospel we proclaim. The apostle John echoes the words of Jesus recorded in his epistle:
If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:20–21)
It is impossible to truly love God without love for the body of Christ. We should seek to love our brothers and sisters as we would love members of our own family. Because, in the final tally, we really are family, the truest family.
When the world makes broad, sweeping statements about the evil in the church, it should give us pause. Instead of joining in on the world’s terms, we should be ready to highlight the good, even as we honestly acknowledge the bad . Love means a willingness to selflessly sacrifice our own reputation for the sake of the body, as Christ did on the cross. Love means taking the risk of being called evil for doing good.
Our Christ-like love toward each other communicates to outsiders that we really believe the gospel we proclaim — and provides a limited, but powerful, illustration of the love that can be theirs in Christ Jesus.
Jesus is the perfect illustration of love, and Holy Week provides an excellent opportunity to witness the exhibition of his love and seek to walk humbly in his steps.