Ugly Feet

April 15, 2022/Maundy Thursday

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

It was the normal chit-chat between people who don’t know each other beyond offering a non-personal greeting or comment on the weather.  We were waiting outside the group exercise studio for the earlier class to end.  I don’t think she would have asked the question she did if he had been a regular, or a woman.  “First time?  Did you get a pedicure?  ‘Cause you know those women are gonna be checking out your feet.”

He played along.  “No, no pedicure.  But I did change my socks,” he said with a smirk.

Let’s face it.  The only cute feet are are baby feet.  Maybe toddler and little kid feet.  But not grown-up feet.  Not old lady feet.  Not laborer feet.  Those feet tend to be calloused and worn, heels cracking, toenails rigid and yellowed.  Ugly.

If you have kids – whether your own or nieces and nephews or godchildren – you likely have washed a lot of feet over the years.  And if you have, you likely have noticed, even if you didn’t share your observations with anyone else, that feet are kind of funny looking.  We have an idea about how we think feet should look, and any variation is deemed weird.  One of our daughter’s feet has a second toe that is shorter than the third toe.  That’s weird.  Our son has toes with fat tips – bulbous looking and weird.  One of our grandsons has toes that he can flex apart like some strange non-human creature.

Feet are weird.

And often dirty.  And smelly.

I understand that one year, before I arrived at Providence, a guest minister dared on Maundy Thursday to bring a basin of water and towel into worship and offer to wash people’s feet.  I also understand that not too many people took her up on the offer.  How about tonight?  Anyone up for a good foot washing?

Only the Gospel of John shares the story of Jesus rising from his spot at the dinner table, removing his outer robe, and then proceeding around the table from disciple to disciple, unfastening their sandals and placing their dusty feet into a basin, pouring water over them, drying them with the towel he’d tied around his waist.  Not just those disciples who said, “Sure, Jesus.  I’d like a good foot rub.”  Not just the ones who seemed most loyal and true.  All the disciples.  The betraying feet of Judas.  The denying feet of Peter.  The sleeping feet of James and John.  Good, bad, and ugly, Jesus washed them all.

That foot washing is kind of like Jesus’ radical grace.  Grace that doesn’t hold back because we hold back.  Grace that doesn’t make itself available only if we’re all in on this Jesus thing, hook, line, and sinker.  Grace that opens its arms wide, hands waving us in for a big hug, pouring water into the basin and inviting us to step in, the water’s warm and clear.

Jesus knew James and John would fall dead asleep even though he asked them to stay awake with him while he prayed.  Jesus knew Judas would turn him over to the authorities for a paltry sum of money.  Jesus knew Peter would deny ever knowing him when pressed by a servant girl outside the gate of the high priest’s house.  He knew all of them would fall away, one by one, afraid for their own lives when it became obvious that he would be killed.

But none of that mattered on this night.  Jesus removed his outer robe, tied a towel around his waist, and moved from disciple to disciple, removing their road-dirtied sandals and washing their filthy feet.

Well, that’s what he was about, after all, right?  Washing away the filth, the dirt that clung to them, the mistakes that scarred them, the countless slip-ups and outright, outrageous sins that condemned them?  Washing them clean of everything that would stand between them and him.  Washing us clean as well.

We’re washed time and time again when we come to this table.  “Our own ugliness lovingly touched and washed clean by Jesus.”[1]  Stripped bare, washed, and filled, as the gospel song tells us:

Fill my cup Lord, I lift it up, Lord!
Come and quench this thirsting of my soul;
Bread of heaven, Feed me till I want no more–
Fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole![2]

Maybe it’s time we took our shoes off and stepped forward – not just willing, but with a little of Peter in us.  Not only my feet, Jesus, but my also my hands and my head.


[1] Lenora Tubbs Tisdale, Feasting on the Word C/2, 279

[2] Richard Blanchard, © 1959, 1988

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