Maundy Thursday Love: What’s So New About The Old Command?

Maundy Thursday foot washing
Photo courtesy of my niece Ruth

Today is Maundy Thursday. “Maundy” is from the Latin word “mandatum” which means “command.”

Maundy Thursday Love

We could say it is Commandment Thursday, because of John 13:34: “A new mandatum, a new mandate, I give to you that you love one another: just as I have love you, you also are to love one another.” The disciple Jesus loved recorded those words at the Last Supper, on Maundy Thursday.

I admit I didn’t know about “maundy” until a few years ago. But it wasn’t until this week that I saw the new commandment in a jaw-dropping light.

Since we’re on the supper subject, let’s call it a “love sandwich.”

The John 13 Love Sandwich

I’ll show it to you in John 13.


Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor.  So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. (vv. 27-30)


When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.  If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.  Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 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.” (vv. 31-35)


Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times. (vv. 36-38)

Between news of Judas’s betrayal and Peter’s denial, Jesus gives this new command. 

Sometimes I tell my sons, “I love you” when they let me down—when they make a bad choice or do an unkind deed. When I say that, and especially when I show it with a smile they get confused. But my words are not sarcastic. I really mean them.

And I’ll tell you this too. When I am late (again) or blast harsh words (again) and my husband and sons and friends keep right on in relationship, loving me, I am staggered.

Jesus meant it too, when he loved his disloyal disciples, “to the end” (13:1). Their unfaithfulness wasn’t enough to stop his steadfast love.

A New Commandment?

“Such love,” you say.

But maybe, with me, you’re still asking, “What’s so new about this commandment, Jesus?”

Do you see the faithful, forever love of Christ, sandwiched between his disloyal disciples? It is between Judas, the betrayer, and Peter, the denier, that Jesus gives this new mandatum, this new command. 

But maybe, with me, you’re asking, “Okay, Lord, how exactly is this commandment new?”

After all, through his servant Moses, 1,500 years before God had given the command to love. 

  • Deuteronomy 6:5: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength.”
  • Leviticus 19:8: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus summed up the whole law with these two commandments, and his disciples and the Jews well knew these two (Mark 12:28-34). 

So how is it new?

Bible scholars suggest that this command to love is “new” in at least three ways: 

1) it initiates the new covenant of his blood in which his law would be written on our hearts,

2) there is a new power to obey his commands (the Holy Spirit), and 

3) there is a new example to follow. 

But let’s just focus on the third today, in John 13:34.

“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.”

John 13:34

In other words, you’ve heard “love your neighbor” before. But you’ve never seen it lived out like this. Jesus said, “just as I have loved you” you are to love one another.

How did Jesus love? 

Jesus had just stripped down to wash his disciples’ feet—all 12 of them, including the betrayer and the denier. Jesus took the form of a servant and humbled himself. He washed all their dirty feet.

It was far more humbling for the perfect Lord to wash feet than it would is for you and me. It was condescension to the extreme.

Unrobing in an act of almost scandalous vulnerability, stooping to wash their feet, the One through whom their very feet were created, the One who for eternity and ages never beginning and never ending knew all the glories of splendor Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and trinitarian love and communion. This Son of God stooped to wash their feet.

Kevin DeYoung, “A New Commandment

Maybe it’s because we wear socks and shoes and take more showers, but the foot washing seems so much easier to me than following Jesus example of faithful, forbearing love.

He bore patiently with his disappointing disciples. He loved them through their unfaithfulness. We are called to do the same: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2).

Jesus bore with Peter and Judas and the other fallen 10 and he bears with us still. He is patient, not wanting any to perish. He bore with the 12 in the upper room that first Maundy Thursday.

Then on Good Friday “he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree,” (1 Peter 2:24a).

And why? “That we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24b).

In other words, so that we could love each other. 

To us whose love is always incomplete,

In vain we search the heavens high above, 

The God of love is kneeling at our feet. 

Though we betray him, though it is the night.

He meets us here and loves us into light.

—Malcolm Guite

“Maundy Thursday”

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