One of the many doctor appointments I've accompanied the elders to lately was a trip with Grampie to a pediatrist. Beve had gone to a regular check-up with his dad, came home to tell me that Grampie really needed to see the foot doctor because "his toes are pretty nasty." You have to understand that I'm not a foot person. In fact, I would go so far as to say I really can't stand feet (a feeling I've passed wholesale to SK, thank-me very much!). Think they're ugly in the best of times. I've had a pedicure or two since I've been an adult, though the first one was practically over my dead body--the idea of someone choosing to touch my feet, let alone pick it up, examine it carefully and paint the toenails. I've actually gotten better at these things, in direct proportion to my daughters' ages, to tell the truth--these daughters who love such girly-girl things as shoes and nail polish, and 'let's all go get pedicures.' But if left to my own devices, I'd probably wear socks year round and forget about them. Beve learned early on that it was the opposite of a turn-on for him to rub his giant Bozo-the-clown, size-14s on mine. Or anywhere in my vicinity, as a matter of fact.
The point is, I can't think of a single thing to say for feet, other than that they serve the purpose for which they were created. But there I was at the pediatrist's office with my favorite father-in-law, sitting in a room with Grampie and a nurse, helping answer questions when the nurse asked Grampie to remove his socks. They should have warned me. Somebody should have. I would have taken a valium ahead of time, though I never take valium, because it makes me feel weird (which I think is the point, but how can anyone stand that feeling?!). Grampie removed his socks and...I almost fainted. No joke, I've never seen anything like it. Blood doesn't make me bat an eye and I stare straight at needles being poked into myself or anyone else. But that toe, that big toe with the thickened nail standing perpendicular to the toe honestly made me lightheaded. How did it even fit into his shoe? I stuck my head behind a magazine and answered questions to pictures of spring flowers in Better Homes and Gardens...until the doctor turned on his electric grinder. Seriously. Then I had to put my head between my knees for a moment before fleeing to the waiting room. Later Beve said, "I'll do feet from now on."
Feet. Every night when I finally get off mine, I become suddenly aware of them. They announce themselves with noisy throbs that sweep from sole to arch to toe and back again. Then I wonder what on earth I've done to work them so hard all day that they have to complain all night at me, even when sometimes I've barely done anything at all. Bad feet run in my family, sorry to say. My grandfather had them, my aunt, dad, a couple cousins, siblings. Our feet just hurt, for no discernible reason.
But they also work. They do their jobs pretty well most of the time. "Blessed are the feet of them," Isaiah says. "Blessed are the feet of those who bring the good news." The feet. Not the mouths to speak this news, but the feet. The feet to bring it. To serve it, one might infer. The good news that is served by one working on feet, coming across distances on feet meant for such purposes. The cracked soles, broken nails, aching feet of those who work for the gospel, who serve the One who is the Incarnate gospel. In fact, so blessed are the feet that Jesus found it worth His while to make a point of washing them. He could have taken hold of his disciples' hands, dipped them in a basin of water, scrubbed the dirt from under their fingernails before they ate together because I'm guessing those hands hadn't seen many baths along the road with Jesus. And if Jesus had washed their hands, He could have made a similar point. Served His servants, so to speak.
But He chose feet, because not only are feet blessed, but that feet are blessed is also unexpected. Feet weren't fancy back then. There weren't pediatrists, wasn't fancy footwear. Feet were merely utilitarian. And the feet Jesus washed were workhorse feet. They hadn't sat around on couches, waiting for someone to fan them, rub oil into them, bring them food. No, these feet were out bringing the good news. And in that bringing of it, they'd gotten more than a little dirty, they'd gotten all used up on the road. Scummy and smelly. Nails long and thick. Maybe even bent at 90 degree angles. They must have been pretty nasty, those feet. And Jesus washed them. He knelt down, held them in His hands, lifted them out of their nasty sandals, put them in a basin and washed then until the basin was dark and there was a ring around it.
Years ago, when I was a teenager on workcrew at Malibu Club in British Columbia we did a footwashing. I've participated in many since, but none has had the impact of that first one. That day out on a rock hill near Main Street at Malibu, we lined up in two lines. I remember thinking there was only one person I didn't want to have as a partner. Of the 50 people on the hill that afternoon, there was only one person I asked God to please, just please, let me not have to face. And, of course--because God is God--that girl became the first person whose feet I ever washed. It was torturous to do it and not because she had particularly ugly feet. I don't remember a thing about her feet, actually. I don't even remember her name. I just remember the ugliness in my heart as we stood together waiting for our turn at the basins, and the change that came over me as I knelt in front of her, then allowed her to do the same. It's impossible to hate, or even dislike, when one is so vulnerable, so exposed. And there is little more humbling than having one's feet washed, even more than doing the washing--particularly by a person one doesn't really like.
And this, I think is the picture Jesus wants us to have. To serve, be served, even in this most base way, is what it means to be His disciple, to be a 'little Christ'. How blessed are the feet who bring, and serve, and DO, the good news. Who act it out by serving and going and washing each other--even their feet. And even--or perhaps, especially--the feet of those most difficult to love. Who is it for you? Whose feet do you need to wash? Whose feet are blessed in your life? And maybe it's the part of them that most gross you out that he wants you to put your hands on (your not-so-lily-white-but-forgiven!, hands on that very part, and show them His love by washing that. Yes, even their feet.
One of my favorite quotes from Frederick Buechner also speaks of feet:
"I say that feet are very religious too. I say that if you want to know who you are, if you are more than academically interested in that particular mystery, you could do a lot worse than to look to your feet for an answer. Introspection, in the long run, doesn't get you very far...when you wake up in the morning, called by God to be a self again, if you want to know who you are, watch your feet. Because where your feet take you, that is who you are."