Feet are filthy, smelly things. Makes sense; they take a beating. We walk on them all day, sweating in sneakers, bashing them on soccer balls, or stubbing them on stones or stairs. Blisters, bunions, and black toenails frequently bedeck our stinky feet.
I imagine the feet of a first century Jewish man weren’t much different. The sandaled feet of Jesus, sun-scorched and sand-dried, knew all the aches and sores of our human condition. Like us in all things but sin, Jesus had filthy, smelly feet (Heb 4:15).
But, at the beginning of Holy Week, we hear of one who loved those filthy feet of Jesus. At dinner, one of his friends named Mary “took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil” (Jn 12:3). Mary poured out more than perfume upon the feet of Jesus; she poured out all her love.
This was not Mary’s first run-in with the feet of Jesus. While Martha fussed about food, Mary favored her Lord’s feet, where she sat and “listened to his teaching” (Lk 10:38–39). She loved to look upon those feet. Why?
Mary saw past the dirt and dust. As she heard him speak, with love-enlightened eyes she drank in salvation. The prophet’s words rang in her heart: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the one bringing good news, announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation” (Is 52:7). How holy the heels that heralded our healing!
He taught the good news on a mountain and showed his transfigured glory on another, but it was on a third that he brought salvation. Upon Golgotha, the mountain of Calvary, fastened by cruel nails, his filthy feet were most beautiful.
And there beneath the bruised and bleeding feet, as tradition tells, stood that same Mary. She gazed on the gashed feet of the one who taught her saving truth. Many saints have joined Mary there, eyes fixed on those transfixed feet. Why?
The saints can’t wrench away their gaze because those bloody feet speak the unspeakable more eloquently than angelic tongues. The blood dripping down from the holes torn in his feet flows from the heart of the Son of God. Climbing the feet, as though stairs, we reach the unutterable, self-emptying abundance of the divine love. Freely, willingly, he endured excruciating sufferings for our sake, for love of us.
Look, then, with the saints and see how he loves.
“Who knows not Love, let him assay
And taste that juice, which on the cross a pike
Did set again abroach, then let him say
If ever he did taste the like.
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine.” (George Herbert, The Agony)
During Holy Week, may our eyes follow the filthy feet of Jesus so that our hearts may find the sweet wine of his divine love.
Image: Fra Bartolomeo, Lamentation