As we celebrate the most Holy Week of the Christian year, we read and re-read the familiar scriptures of that week. I always enjoy looking for new insights in those old, familiar stories. Someone once said that when he reads the Bible he finds himself checking to see if the ink is still wet, because suddenly there seem to be new words in those old verses, new insights which make him wonder if that verse was just written and added to the text.
For me that experience has come with the realization that there were two washings during Holy Week. On the day we call Maundy Thursday, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. The very next day, the day we call Good Friday, Pontius Pilate washed his own hands. Those two washings were quite different, both in context and in meaning, and they represent two very divergent ways of living our lives.
Jesus washed the feet of his disciples as an act of humility, a way of reminding them to serve one another, to love one another, to care for one another. Pontius Pilate washed his own hands in a vain attempt to avoid responsibility, as a way of saying, "The death of Jesus, whom I have just condemned, is not my fault."
The one washing was the ultimate gift of love for others, the other washing was an infamous effort to refuse concern for another human being. The one washing has for all time demonstrated what service, leadership, caring, and sharing are all about. The other washing is still remembered in our English language as a description of avoiding responsibility. The one washing was perhaps the most genuine expression of our connection with one another as human beings; the other washing stands as the most hypocritical act in history.
There were two washings that week, and those two washings remind us of the choice we all face in life – will we love and serve others, or will we live a life of avoidance and aloofness?
There were two washings that week. Which one will inform and shape our lives during this Holy Week?
– from Bishop Michael Coyner,
Indiana Area of The United Methodist Church
(from an article originally written in 2005)