It is told that Alexander the Great and a small company of soldiers approached a strongly fortified walled city. Alexander, standing outside the walls, raised his voice and demanded to see the king. when the king arrived, Alexander insisted that the king surrender the city and its inhabitants to Alexander and his little band of fighting men. The king laughed, “Why should I surrender to you? You can’t do us any harm!” But Alexander offered to give the king a demonstration. He ordered his men to line up single file and start marching. He marched them straight toward a sheer cliff. The townspeople gathered on the wall and watched in shocked silence as, one by one, Alexander’s soldiers marched without hesitation right off the cliff to their deaths! After ten soldiers died, Alexander ordered the rest of the men to return to his side. The townspeople and the king immediately surrendered to Alexander the Great. They realized that if a few men were actually willing to commit suicide at the command of this dynamic leader, then nothing could stop his eventual victory.
It is told that the abbot of a monastery took a dead stick and stuck it in the ground, then turning to a monk named John he told him to tend the stick as though it was alive. For the next year John tilled the soil around the stick, kept it weeded, and without exception brought water up twice a day and watered the dead stick.
There is a word that many of us are not so fond of because in most cases it means that we have a superior who commands us. That word is “obedience.” Although we may not like it, we will be obedient for a variety of reasons: fear, loyalty, ideals, and so on. There are various persons who can call us to obedience, but we know that God is most certainly at the head of the list.
Think of Jesus’ first miracle, the wedding at Cana. Jesus’ public ministry has not yet begun, but when the wedding party runs out of wine, Mary – Jesus mother – turns to him and says, “They have no more wine.” “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” And of course it was the finest of wines.
Yet when Mary said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you,” she was not just speaking to them. We know that she also speaks to us and we are given commands by Jesus that we must follow. Being obedient and following these commands is where Maundy Thursday gets its name. From the Old French we have the word mandé which is something commanded and from the Latin mandatum which also means commandment, and Mandatum is the first word of verse 34 that we read today, “Mandātum novum dō vōbīs… A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”
Jesus demonstrates to us how we are to be obedient to this command by serving one another, by loving one another, by taking the lowest position, the position of a slave and washing each other’s feet. As a Christian people, are you prepared to be obedient to this new commandment? If yes, then how far are you willing to go in being obedient? No, I’m not asking you to go jump off a cliff as Alexander’s men did, but like Jesus, would you be obedient? Watering a dead stick might seem silly to the world, but if Jesus asks you to look silly in order to be obedient, will you follow? Would you kneel in front of a stranger and wash their feet? These are the things Jesus calls us to be obedient to, but not out of fear or loyalty or some great idealism, but out of love. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”