I’ve been struck lately by the number of times that people encountered Jesus from the ground. Think of the woman taken in adultery, the man at the pool, Mary, who anointed his feet, the man who was lowered down through the roof, the woman with the issue of blood, the man out of whom the legion of devils were cast, the widow of Nain, the man at the pool of Bethesda, to name a few. These are the ones the record clearly describes, but I imagine there were more.
Their encounters began with them in abject humility, brought down by some crushing burden—illness, physical disability, mental illness or something inside: shame or guilt, ostracism.
In each case their first view of the Master would have been his feet. I wonder how long they stared at them. His skin must have been tanned deeply, even burned from walking miles in the hot sun. They must have been dusty, perhaps calloused. They must have looked so ordinary.
Did they know then? Did they feel something? At that point did their hope start to fade? In my mind I can hear some of their thoughts.
Turn around. What are you doing? He’ll despise you. You’re not good enough. You are too broken. You can’t be healed. You can’t be forgiven.
All these people will laugh. You deserve it.
Turn back now. Save some dignity. He’ll condemn you. Or laugh.
Who would ever love someone like you?
Why would you even think he would do this?
He’s just a man. He has no power. And if he does, he will condemn you.
It may have grown to a shouting chorus. As different as these people were, I imagine they heard the same things.
That moment must have seemed unending to the person at his feet. A lifetime of slights and hurts must have reignited then.
Perhaps they somehow raised the courage to look up.
But I imagine, some did not. More often, perhaps he had to reach down. I imagine fingers, strong from carpentry, gentle, but resolute slipping under a quivering chin.
The journey to meet his eyes must have seemed even longer. Unbearable. Perhaps some could not bear to see, willing themselves to be blind in that moment.
The moment when their eyes met his must have been sublime and sacred. Deeply intimate even when public. I think of feet again, and I think of Moses removing his shoes because the ground on which stood was holy.
In his eyes they must have seen so much, enough to take hope, to find fresh courage. But it still may have been difficult. Perhaps they still felt self-conscious, foolish, or ashamed.
Is this why he so often told people to be of good cheer? To let their hearts be not troubled? To let peace be with them? To not be afraid?
Then his words. Oh, those words! Even now, thousands of years later, reading them gives me hope and courage, it stirs my spirit like nothing else. What must it have been like to hear them in his voice? That voice calmed seas. It raised the dead. And before long, it would call out in pain, crying from these burdens freely born.
I can’t imagine the way their hearts must have leapt as they realized what he was saying, what he was doing, what it all meant. The thing about Jesus is that he always surprised people. Surprised them by doing what seemed impossible, by giving happy endings where none could possibly be. He always surprised people by being better than they could have imagined, better than they could have hoped.
But it's worth repeating and thinking about the fact that this was wonderful because it was a surprise, so deeply unexpected. But that also meant it would have been that much harder to muster the hope.
I can’t get this moment out of my mind, the moment of staring at his feet, the air crackling with complex human emotion, heavy with feeling and meaning, then the long journey to meet his eyes.
These people’s backgrounds were different. The burdens they bore were different. The words he spoke were different, and the lives they returned to were different. But in each case, despite the difference, the outcome was the same: healing. Peace. Hope. And despite the differences, this all happened when they came found themselves huddled at the feet of Jesus.
These feet did remarkable things. These were feet that walked hundreds of miles. Feet that were resolute and firm. Feet that walked on water, feet that would stumble beneath a terrible weight. Feet pierced with nails. Feet that would walk triumphantly from a tomb. Feet that would walk the road to Emmaus. Feet that would ascend again. But to me, one of the most miraculous moments of all came each time a wounded soul collapsed there and found the courage to look up.