The Nasty Things We Step In


I turn onto Halsted Street and immediately sidestep a chunky puddle of someone’s stomach contents. Half a block down, as we pass two men talking, one of them leans out to caution, “Careful of your step, babe.” I glance down in time to avoid a stream of what seems like urine running across the sidewalk.

A couple of minutes later, we reach the 7-Eleven parking lot, littered with the usual cigarette butts, puddles of unknowns liquids, trash and, yes, more urine running down from where some guy just peed on the brick wall.

We step in a lot of nasty things on Outreach. Thankfully, we wear shoes to keep the filth from touching our feet. But what if that wasn’t the case? What if we walked around the Boystown neighborhood barefoot?

I don’t know how many times I’ve read the passage about Jesus washing the disciples’ feet in John 13 and understood it only as a command to serve others as Christ did. But recently I’ve been challenged to read this passage from the receiving end, not just the giving end. What is Jesus teaching us here?

In first century Jewish culture, foot washing was a task for the lowest of the low. Everyone walked everywhere and, with sandals on, the stuff that collected on their feet was not unlike the stuff I try to avoid on Outreach. And yet, Jesus knelt down to scrub the filth off the feet of these men. Men like Judas, who would betray him, and Peter, who would deny him.

Knowing full well who he was (the King of kings and Lord of lords) and that these men would flee in terror the moment he was arrested, Jesus STILL washed their feet. He didn’t run from their filth, but waded right into it.

I think of myself and the gunk Jesus would have to scrub off my feet if I walked around Boystown barefoot, and I’m ashamed. I’m ashamed of the filth I carry, inside and out. God forbid that the King of kings and Lord of lords should bow down and wash me clean!

Yet that’s exactly what he does. That’s how great his love is. He doesn’t run from the mess. All the urine, all the puke, and whatever grime I am holding in my heart…it’s not enough to deter God’s love. He comes into the mess, whether I want him to or not.

Heather has noticed that “God of the mess” seems to be a theme in her life since coming to Emmaus. To read more of her reflections along these lines, go to this blog post.

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