I recently shined some of my shoes for the first time. The toes were scuffed every which way, and different cracks and creases had become more visible. In one spot the leather was even peeling away.
The first step for me was figuring out what to use. There are tons of options. I finally went with two shoe creams, one black, and one brown. Once home, I grabbed an old sock and got to work. Slowly, the color on the shoes was looking better. The cracks and creases weren’t as noticeable. Even the scuffs were disappearing. For my first attempt, I thought they turned out just fine.
And yet, after I was done, I couldn’t help staring at them and thinking: all the scuff marks are still there. The leather is still peeling away. Soon enough the creases and cracks will reappear. For now, it’s all just been covered up.
On this Maundy Thursday, Jesus offers his disciples something totally different: to wash their feet. Jesus has no interest in hiding the blemishes on the outside of their shoes. Instead, he kneels down, takes their shoes off, and takes water and a towel to their feet. Even though the act was more common then, it was not any less vulnerable for these disciples. Peter tries to refuse Jesus’ offer. But Jesus insists.
One of Jesus’ harshest insults recorded in Scripture comes when he calls some teachers of faith “whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside,” he says, “but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way,” he continues, “on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside, you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” On Maundy Thursday, instead of covering up that hypocrisy and wickedness inside me and inside you, polishing us so no one can see it, Jesus uncovers it. He takes off our shoes, bursts into the tombs of our lives, and gets intimate with all that is dead and stale in us, and going to work there.
I wonder whether you might have someone today whose feet you could wash, or who might wash yours. It sounds so strange, letting someone in to all that stink, filth, and grime that we ourselves might not see or know about. But by allowing others to serve us in this way, a door in our hearts gets opened, so that we might, too, follow Jesus’ command: to love one another.