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Two Basins- Midweek Musing 3/28/2024

This week as I was studying the Holy Week narratives, I noticed something for the first time. Suddenly it occurred to me that two of the very same objects appear in the story which, though they provide the exact same function, were used for very different end goals.

I discovered in the biblical narrative that two basins are filled with water and used for washing. The first time this occurs it is on Maundy Thursday in the Upper Room where Jesus gathers with his disciples for their last meal. The word "Maundy" comes from the Latin word mandatum, which means "commandment." Thus, Maundy Thursday is named after Jesus's commandment to his disciples to love one another, and it demonstrates the importance of humility and service in our call as Christians.

On this evening, as Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper, he also gives a commandment to his followers - "Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another" (John 13:34)

To demonstrate this on the very night that he was betrayed, he took a basin and washed his disciples’ feet. This simple humble act is a profound demonstration of humility and servanthood. Jesus sets aside his status as God’s son, stripping away any semblance of superiority. Here, the basin is not merely a vessel for water but also a profound symbol of self-giving love and service. Jesus, fully aware of his impending sacrifice, chooses to embody love in its purest form, instructing us to do likewise.

Thus, the commandment to love is not just abstract words but is deeply embedded in the call of Christ’s disciples to live a life of service and sacrifice. This is demonstrated by the washing of feet—an act traditionally performed by servants for honored guests.

Later in the story we find another basin filled with water for washing. It is a stark contrast, as it is used by Pontious Pilate. In this part of the story on Good Friday, we witness Pilate, the Roman governor, using his basin in a dramatically different way. Pilate washes his hands in front of the crowd, declaring himself innocent of Jesus' execution. This act of washing hands symbolizes Pilate's vain attempt to absolve himself of responsibility in the death of Jesus of Nazareth. Here, the basin represents evasion, cowardice, prejudice, and a refusal to stand for justice.

Pilate had the authority to release Jesus (and the story notes Pilate even believed Jesus to really be innocent), yet he chose to give in to the crowd's demands, washing his hands as if to cleanse himself of the decision that led to the crucifixion, promoting a sequence of hate and violence by his action of inaction. Pilate represents both the indifference and hateful actions that sadly are so pervasive in our world.

These two episodes involving similar basins, both of which hold water for cleansing, encapsulate the tension and contradiction between love and indifference, service and apathy.

Jesus calls us to choose love and serve, demonstrating what those things really entail. He did not merely teach about love; he lived it. A life that culminated in the ultimate sacrifice on the cross. Through our Lord’s actions, Jesus illustrated that love is not passive but active—requiring us to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).

In reflecting on the symbolism of the two basins during Holy Week, we are reminded of the choice before us every day: to love as Jesus loved, or to wash our hands of the responsibility we have to care for others.

Christ's call is clear—to love.  For Jesus, love always matters most.

This love is not some abstract feeling but a call to action, demonstrated fully by our Lord’s sacrifice on the cross. As followers of Christ, we are called to embody this love, serving others with humility and grace, recognizing that every act of kindness, every gesture of love, is a reflection of the love that Christ showed us.

Two basins symbolize the two choices that confront humanity in every age including our own. The way of the cross leads to life and life abundant, while the way of injustice always leads to pain and death.

This Holy Week more than any other, we are reminded that we face with the same decision - to love audaciously like Christ by humbling ourselves for others, or to wash our hands of it all, hardening our hearts to the need around us.

Two basins. Two choices. May we, like Christ, take on the towel of service, surrendering our pride and embracing the way of love - the way of outrageous, sacrificial love. Because in God’s, eyes love always matters most.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Alleluia Amen.





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