At the Feet of Love – John 12:1-8
Feet are a conduit of love. Of all the possible things. Feet. For me, this makes sense, because feet make me think of my dad.
My father was born just after World War I. He grew to adulthood during the Great Depression, and served in World War II. It should not surprise anyone, then, that he wasn’t exactly big on expressing his tenderer feelings, at least not during my growing-up years. . When he was feeling really content, he would sit on the floor watching football with me and he would reach out and just hold one of my feet. If he though I wasn’t listening, he would whisper, “I love you,” and wiggle my foot a bit as he said it. It was weird, and quirky, and it’s one of the things I miss most about my dad.
It used to be that one seldom saw bare feet in public. But if you do look at the bare feet of an adult, they can tell you a lot about that person. They can be pale or have tan lines. They can be soft, or they can be misshapen and calloused. They can be grimy or clean, pedicured or showing signs of neglect. Structurally, they hold our weight as we balance on a latticework of tiny, delicate bones. They anchor us to this good earth and keep us grounded, and on a warm summer’s morning we can feel the pulse and hum of the earth vibrate through our feet as we stand in the cool, sweet grass.
Feet also can make us self-conscious. Maybe this is why the incidents of foot washing in the Bible are so memorable to us. You have to really love someone to want to wash their feet, much less caress those feet and pour expensive perfume all over them.
So the scene of Mary breaking open her precious alabaster jar and pouring nard all over Jesus’s feet is obviously a scene of great intimacy and love—extravagant, prodigal love. The poet Mary Skevington emphasizes the sumptuous sensual overload from Mary’s action in her poem, “Mary, of Bethany, at your feet a third time:”
Fragrance fills the room, the house, the night,
as more people pour from Jerusalem to you,
to you, who comes to us in our weeping,
who shares our bread with us,
and brings us to such joy as this.
And there are not one, but TWO extravagant gifts we have to contemplate as we look at Mary’s washing of Jesus’s feet with expensive perfume and hair: Mary’s excessive display of devotion and worship, yes—but also Jesus’s example of his obedience to God’s will. His determination to follow the dictates of love to overcome evil become clear in this episode. Those same feet being anointed will carry him from Bethany—which means “the house of the poor”—to Jerusalem and then on to Calvary. Mary takes her place at the feet of love, and reminds us that we are called there too.
Too often, we lose sight that the core of Jesus’s message is love. Too many people—both within and outside of Christianity– think the core of Jesus’s message is about rigid rules of behavior, hellfire and damnation, and sober, self-righteous judgmentalism directed toward others. Sadly that is the public face of Christianity in too much of the society in which we live. Too often we forget the extravagant acts of love that defined Jesus’s interactions with his friends and disciples, and even strangers.
So yes, those feet will be anointed and kissed and wiped with Mary’s beautiful veil of hair. Those same feet are going to carry Jesus to the outskirts of Jerusalem and on to his passion. Isaiah 52 reminds us, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation….”
At this moment, Jesus’ feet straddle the line between earth and heaven, between his ministry and his death upon a cross, and Mary is making those feet ready. Before he is betrayed and handed over to the authorities, Jesus himself is going to show his love for his disciples by washing all of their feet, as a sign that great love also demands great humility and a sense of servanthood.
Jesus comes to bring us a message of love of God and love of neighbor—and that message puts him at odds with the powers of oppression and empire. Jesus’s feet carry God’s good news even today to all of us. With those feet, Jesus leads us from death to life. Sittting at the feet of love is where we, too are anointed to bear the good news of extravagant grace to the world.
Leslie Scoopmire is a writer, musician, and a priest in the Diocese of Missouri. She is rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Ellisville, MO. She posts prayers, meditations, and sermons at her blog Abiding In Hope, and collects spiritual writings and images at Poems, Psalms, and Prayers.