This past weekend I gathered my crew together for a 15 minute mini-session of family photos. Now, I am not one to have high expectations for sessions like these… I have three young and wild little boys after all. I don’t expect everyone to smile brightly at the camera or behave perfectly. I believe some of the best photos are reflections of reality, after all. But for only a 15 minute session, I do, perhaps naively, expect them to stay relatively clean. As we gathered to take photos this past Sunday, however it became clear very quickly that staying clean was not going to happen. It had rained heavily the day before, so the mud was still fresh and squishy on the ground. For the first shot, the photographer directed us to stand in a group amid the beautiful setting of trees and right in the middle of fresh mud. Like a bee to honey, I could feel my wiggly little boys drawn into investigating the damp earth beneath them. They just could not help it – the squishy, messy, gumminess of it was just so intriguing. After the first couple shots, my husband instructed the three of them to walk to the curb and rub the heels of their shoes against it. He was hoping they would dislodge some of the mud before we moved onto the next area. Instead, the boys somehow managed to get the mud spread from their shoes to their legs. My youngest also just had to investigate the mud up close, so he grabbed the bottom of his shoe with his hands and was immediately surprised by the dark brown substance left behind.
Shaking my head (as I was ill-prepared to do anything about the mess – I stopped carrying wipes a long time ago) we just kept on going. We walked over to a bridge to take the next series of shots as the photographer prepped to take individual photos of each child. The first two boys smiled appropriately after some prodding, but the third… Well though she tried her best to get him to put his muddy hands down and smile at the camera, he instead just kept triumphantly showing her his hand – caked in the precious mud. Finally, I gave into the mud and had the photographer take one last photo of three pairs of muddy legs and feet dangling from three bodies leaning over the rail to investigate the water below.
When we got back to the car, all the boys immediately removed their shoes and aired out their dirty, muddy feet. I am amazed that they are already tall enough to be able to prop those smelly things right up next to my head. They are growing quickly, and as they grow in height, their feet get a little bigger, a little stinker, and hold onto the mess a little more strongly in each callous and crevice that forms.
This is why I can only imagine that the apostles feet were a sight to behold as Jesus knelt to wash them at the Last Supper. They were grown men, after all, whose feet had seen years of walking hot, dusty, mud-caked roads. Their feet, as much as any other part of them, told the story of their life journey outlined in each wrinkle, callous, and line. In the last few years alone, their feet had steadied them in the storm at sea and walked among the 5,000 passing out loaves and fish. Their feet had supported them in their surprise as they witnessed Jesus giving sight to the blind, healing the sick, and raising the dead. They were worn and calloused, aged by the sun and the heat. But as Jesus stooped down to wash their feet, I imagine he treasured each pair as much as I still treasure my own sons’ stinky, messy, dirty feet. Perhaps as he bathed them in water and wiped them clean, he recognized that these feet had once been treasured by their own moms. Perhaps as he felt each wrinkle, he remembered and treasured the journey they had taken together. He washed each foot with tremendous care as a mom cares time and again for her child.
I know that this story is often used as a reference of how Jesus served the apostles as we should, in turn, serve one another. But as I prayed and reflected on this passage in preparation for Holy Thursday, I saw it as a tremendous act of love. Jesus, I believe, felt the kind of love for his apostles that a mom feels for her child. The kind of love that no amount of stinkiness or muddiness can lessen. And through this act of love, Jesus invites us to love one another just as unconditionally.
May we each have the opportunity today to demonstrate our love to another so they may know that no amount of mud, dirt, or messiness can lessen our affection for them.