There are places in the Bible where I tend to pause, and not always at the profound moments when Jesus is healing blind men and raising people from the dead. Sometimes I’ll pause, look into the middle distance, and woolgather about what that woman with the menstrual bleeding who touched Jesus’ robe in the crowded market looked like and what served as a maxi pad back then. This morning I couldn’t stop contemplating the ugliness of people’s feet in the first century.
Pretty sure sandals were the standard. I don’t think they wore socks with them like the neighbor who still uses a push reel mower on his front lawn. They walked everywhere back then. And it’s dry in the Middle East (cracked heals). Mangled toes with black nails falling off. I wonder if they let their nails grow long, which has always freaked me out. They didn’t have nail clippers—I don’t think they had nail clippers. Feet must have been, in a word, repulsive, the ugliest part of the body.
Mother’s have been known to pull snot out of their child’s noses, Mothers in other countries sometimes masticate goat meat and spit it into their baby’s mouths. Jesus washed his disciples feet because he loved them. Bunions, hammertoes (whatever those are), too long toenails. If Jesus was over for a cup of tea, he’d wash my feet too. I’m his disciple so he’d do that for me.
In John 13:1, right before he washes the disciple’s feet, Jesus says, “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” Washing their repulsive feet was Jesus loving them to the end—a precursor to the cross.
However, this morning as I contemplated ugly feet, I didn’t think so much about Jesus’ final act of love—his death for us on the cross—I thought about all that John 13:1 communicates. If Nero had burned every last page of the Bible and tossed the ashes into the closest lion’s den, we’d still know scripture. God might as well have tucked that verse into a bottle to wash up on a beach where some kind soul would take a picture and post it to Instagram because, Nero be damned, it sums up the Bible—even the Old Testament if you think about it—in one short sentence. God told his son to love us to the end and his son obeyed.
Sometimes I imagine myself like Joan of Ark, throwing myself in front of buses or cars or trains, taking bullets like Joan took arrows to save people, but truth be told I scare easily [link]. More than likely I’d dive into the closest moat and duck under the water until my lungs were about to explode. But never mind, even if I scare easily I can still follow Jesus into love, I can still love to the end. God might have given me a different context than Joan, a small but still very important life that won’t go down in history, but he’s still given me every opportunity to love.
Even though the cross, after Jesus cleans his disciple’s ugly feet, is the apex of God’s love, what really spanks my soul out of a stupor is Gethsemane. Perhaps because—notwithstanding getting a leg sawed off—in my experience emotional pain is worse than physical pain.
We’re given that last scene in Gethsemane like the last scene of a play; Jesus is in a dark garden and is sweating profusely, his forehead pressed against a rock, his hands clasped as his mouth silently moves. There’s no golden light coming from above, no music, no angels, no answering voices, just silence. The stage is awash in dim blue light signifying it’s night and his robe appears lit from some faraway moon. We stare as he continues to lean against the rock with his hands clasped, everything still and silent, when the curtain begins to move. It makes a soft, barely discernible sussh as it slowly begins to close. We look on and are filled with a beautiful sorrow because even though the play ends before the cross we’re more sure than ever that it’s coming.