What IS Maundy Thursday? It Emphasizes the #1 Ethical Standard.

It’s the Thursday before “Good Friday”, leading up to Easter. Often called “Holy Thursday”, also known by other names, Maundy Thursday features Jesus’s “new commandment.”

What IS Maundy Thursday?Which command from Jesus? Until very recently I had no idea what “Maundy Thursday” was, is, or when, or why. (I’ve lived in non-liturgical churches.) Turns out there’s an important emphasis in it, if we listen.

Maundy ” comes from the Latin word mandatum, or commandment, reflecting Jesus’ words “I give you a new commandment”. (Wikipedia)

What exactly was the “new commandment”?

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 12:34,35)

In John’s Gospel this was spoken just after Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. This commandment wasn’t really new; perhaps Jesus called it “new” because, though mentioned in most or all religions it has often been functionally minimized. His original followers knew lots and lots of religious commandments – likely including this one.

But this one is extreme – or “radical”– in the literal sense of being basic, or the root of the issues involved, the issues of life.

Sometimes it seems we almost instinctively turn away from discussion of this – the priority of love.

It can be difficult. And it seems irrelevant to the real issues, the important crises we are always facing, like war, politics, economic issues, class and race tensions. It seems irrelevant to “important” religious questions like the role of communion or of baptism, or the question of which is the true church, or what’s the actual procedure or requirement for being forgiven and saved.

But Jesus in fact associated it closely to what he called “the first and greatest commandment” [love God], saying “the second [love neighbors] is like unto it.”  On Maundy Thursday he said, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

On another occasion it was presented like this:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

The Apostle Paul speaks of “the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” (Romans 13:8)

What is Maundy Thursday? It Emphasizes the #1 Ethical Standard!As is so often true, the Bible’s words in this matter are pretty clear. But these are not the words we (“Christianity” in general) sit down with and devote ourselves to learning to implement. What if we FOCUSED on this?

But other things are more fun to argue about, or involve more “meaningful” ceremonies, or are more easily used to criticize other people and set ourselves as superior. You know what I mean?

Maundy Thursday, if we remembered the meaning of the word and the instructions and example Jesus gave on that day, could help us refocus on Jesus’ own true priorities.

  • This is the day he gave that “new” commandment to love.
  • It’s the day he washed the disciples’ feet as an example – a job for lowly servants.
  • It‘s a day he deliberately stuck with his plan to not hide from the assassination intentions of the religious and political authorities.

His daily practice of loving “ordinary” people

(his being present among them, the healings, food, teaching, attention, truth-telling) had made him into someone The Establishment regarded as dangerous – someone to lie about; someone who had to be removed. Isn’t that bizarre? Loving ordinary people can sometimes actually make you an enemy of “the powers that be” (or “the powers that wanna be”)!

Can we accept that kind of “mandate” – a commandment to love them all?

But! But! But! On Maundy Thursday he said, “Love one another.” But he earlier said “THE GREATEST” commandment is to love God.

But really – how do you claim to love someone (or Someone) while you do not love — or even care about — what they love?

Can you? I think that cannot really be done.

you cannot love Someone (say, God) and despise, or be indifferent to, what that Someone loves. And God loves those people.
You cannot love God, whom you cannot see, if you do not love your human siblings whom you can see. That’s from I John. So is this: “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness.” And I’m sure that’s because you cannot love Someone (say, God) and despise, or be indifferent to, what that Someone loves. And God loves those people. Jesus, the representation of God in human setting, loves those people. If we claim to love God but do not love what God loves, we seriously have a problem that needs attention.

See also in PublicChristian:
If You Do Not Love Your Neighbor, Whom You CAN See – Can You Love God?

So an integral, inescapable part of loving God is loving one another. If we don’t do the latter, we are not doing the former.

“Justice Is What Love Looks Like in Public” (Cornel West)

An explicit emphasis on social justice (there is no other kind of justice, by the way) is inescapably part of loving one’s neighbors.

See also:
Justice is what love looks like in public. Why Resist It? Is It Possible We Hate Loving Our Neighbors?
Was Social Justice Part of Jesus’ Message? Oh Yes. 4 Scriptures

And here’s another thing:

Love is Not just an Occasional Slight Twinge

of slight hope that good things, or at least not bad things, happen to those people in and around our lives. Those people who don’t actually mean much to us. Do you know who I mean? Do we even know who they might be?


(more ordinary-seeming than social justice, but quite demanding)
It’s a sobering list. It does not mention justice per se, social justice, but that topic is adequately covered by the Cornel West quote above. And for Christian or Jewish readers social justice is dealt with explicitly in the teaching and example of Jesus, and by vigorous emphasis in the ancient Hebrew prophets. (This list is from Frank Andrews in his “The Art and Practice of Loving”, p12.)

  • affection, alertness, appreciation, attention, awareness,
  • awe, caring, celebration, cherishing, concern,
  • connectedness, curiosity, delight, enjoyment, enthusiasm,
  • interest, intimacy, joy, liking, oneness,
  • peace, regard, respect, responsiveness, sensitivity,
  • surrender, tenderness, thankfulness, warmth, wonder.

Do we “love one another” – as Jesus commanded on Maundy Thursday – ACCORDING TO THIS STANDARD? People at work? At home? At school? At church? Across the tracks? Beyond the freeway? Across town? At the other end of the state? Of different race or culture? Or even – people across some international border? Across some sea or ocean? But especially, and much more practically, those within a few miles of us.


Kari Martinsen is a nurse-philosopher who explicitly applied loving to health-care practice.

See This Article on PublicChristian:
Nurse-Philosopher Makes Case for Compassion, Caring as Primary Value

This is from her book “Care and vulnerability” where Martinsen speaks of:

An eye which does not differentiate, but differentiates all the same, is the eye of respect or neighbourly love. It is seeing the good or the significant in every human being. It is presupposing likeness, and it is the likeness that binds us all together. Each person is unconditionally equally important. (Akribe, Oslo, c2006, p92. For more on Kari Martinsen see this Google page.) (Here’s a source for the book, but none are available.)


And here’s a Chicano American featuring it – love – as the foundation of how we as a society must treat each other, especially toward minority groups, and within oppressed groups. This is from Patrick Reyes, PhD, in his 2021 book The Purpose Gap: Empowering Communities of Color to Find Meaning and Thrive.

I write to my beautiful Brown children … I tend to bear the full weight of the oppression, violence, and injustice in every letter on the page.
The focus here is the thing that is central to closing the purpose gap: love. The purpose gap exists because we have made choices as a society about whom we do and do not love. …
As people of faith we have sometimes expressed this love violently by excluding people we do not recognize as belonging … even though Jesus, whom we follow, was an exemplar of radically inclusive love. (p13)

So: Maundy Thursday Intends to Honor the Command Jesus gives us to Love One Another.

That command is tied, by the rest of Scripture, and by quite a few other thinkers and spiritual practitioners through the centuries, to loving the neighbors, loving the world, and THUS loving God – who is the Origin of all being and of all that love. We should listen to what Jesus emphasizes. This is, after all, what Jesus is already doing, right now. We should get on board.

See Also on PublicChristian:
Love God. Can Even GOD Demand That?

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