Will you join me in thanking God for functional feet? Having experienced non-functional feet for a few months, even puffiness around my titanium-fortified right ankle or taking the stairs one step at a time first thing in the morning doesn’t lessen my gratitude.
Some of us work more than others on making our feet beautiful. We exfoliate; buff, clip, file, and paint toenails; and buy lots and lots of shoes. Some of us even wear toe rings and ankle bracelets. And don't forget tattoos that look like toe rings and ankle bracelets.
Did Jesus have beautiful feet?
Probably not by our standards. Like most men in his day, he wore sandals and walked on dusty roads and through muddy paths. There are a few feet-related incidents in Jesus’ life that jumped out at me recently.
In chapter 7 of his Gospel, Luke narrates the account of a dinner at the home of Simon, a Pharisee. An uninvited “sinful woman” there was the only one who cared for Jesus’ road-dirty feet; we know this because Jesus called the Pharisee on his social blunder:
“Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.”
(Luke 7:44 – 46)
(Luke 7:44 – 46)
Though Simon had invited Jesus, he didn’t welcome him according to the basic social customs of the day—a basin of cool water for his dusty feet, a kiss of greeting, and oil to anoint. Simon dishonored Jesus instead.
Jesus told Simon a parable about a person forgiven a small debt and another person forgiven a large debt, and the punch line was “whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:47) The so-called sinful woman loved Jesus much in response to the forgiveness of her many sins; she showed her love by washing his feet and worshiping there.
Mary of Bethany also loved Jesus much, though the Gospels portray her as a godly woman with no obvious sins. She, too, washed Jesus’ feet and worshiped him there. Mary had a better situation, since we can assume Jesus’ feet had already been washed with water when he entered her home. Mary, her sister Martha, or a servant would have offered this hospitality to their favorite friend. Instead of water, “Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” (John 12:3)
In the first incident, Simon the Pharisee criticized Jesus for letting a sinful woman touch him. In the second incident. Judas Iscariot criticized Mary for wasting this valuable nard when it could have been sold and the money used to help the poor. Jesus gives Judas no parable, just a rebuke, “Leave her alone,” and a riddle, “She’s preparing me for burial.” It’s likely only Judas understood the riddle since he planned to turn Jesus over to the authorities when the opportunity arose.
In a third foot washing incident, we find Jesus himself on the floor with the towel and the basin. When Jesus and his disciples celebrated Passover together in a borrowed guest room, apparently no one arranged for an attending servant. None of the disciples cared to fill that role, although Jesus had previously taught them, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42 – 45)
So Jesus modeled the attitude he had commanded and performed the lowly duty of freshening his guests’ grimy feet. Peter was offended enough to resist Jesus in this outrageous act—but not offended enough to offer to take his place. Like the two women, Jesus also loved much. By the next nightfall, Jesus demonstrated the enormity of his outrageous love by giving his own blood to wash soiled souls.
Did Jesus have beautiful feet? Nailed to a cross, his feet were not only dirty, but also punctured, raw, and blood smeared. Yet, with the ancient prophet, I strain to see beyond the obvious physical reality and agree:
“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’”(Isaiah 52:7)
All scripture is quoted from the New International Version.