Jesus got up from the table took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him…After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord — and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”
— John 13.4-6, 12-15
It’s Advent season. We celebrate the coming of the end of the world as we knew it while waiting expectantly for the end of the world as we know it. It is a world where righteousness reigns (2 Peter), and justice rolls on like a river (Amos 5). We look at the world as it is now, in the context of the kingdom that has been revealed to us in Jesus Christ. I find myself thinking more about the world as it is now. I find myself thinking about dirty feet.
Maybe I am naive to be shocked by the words from one of the attorneys who defended the three men who chased down and killed Ahmaud Arbery. “Turning Ahmaud Arbery into a victim after the choices that he made does not reflect the reality of what brought Ahmaud Arbery to Satilla Shores in his khaki shorts with no socks to cover his long, dirty toenails.”
It’s a repulsive thing to say.
The defense was trying to paint Arbery as a dangerous black man who entered a quiet neighborhood development to cause trouble. They appealed to old racist tropes with hopes that Arbery’s intentions and perhaps even his humanity would be called into question. They dug deep into the consciousness of the jurors to raise suspicions about his presence in Satilla Shores. Could he really just be jogging? What was he doing there? He must have been up to something!
Former prosecutor and current civil rights attorney, Charles Coleman Jr. told several media outlets that the defense took the opportunity to portray Ahmaud as a “runaway slave.” Wanda, Ahmaud’s mother had to leave the room. She later commented, “I thought it was very, very rude to talk about his long, dirty toenails and to totally neglect that my son had a huge hole in his chest when he was shot with that shotgun.”
Jesus marks the end of the world as we know it.
The world we know now produces violent speech. It uses dirty feet as a justification for suspicion, and suspicion as a justification for murder, a contemporary lynching.
In the kingdom of heaven, Jesus washes dirty feet. Jesus rules as a savior who serves. The world as we know it is under the judgment of the kingdom. The new world has come and is coming. The kingdom of heaven is already but not yet. The brutal lynching of Ahmaud is evidence of the not-yet, and the “not-yet” has always been almost too much to bear, especially for those who bear it intensely. We wait and ask, how long oh Lord?
We wait in the “not yet” with an occasional taste or a glimpse of “the already.” The already is a place where Ahmaud’s dirty, beloved feet are washed by Jesus. The already is where suspicion and violence yield to justice and peace. Lord, we need more “already.” How many more “not-yet’s” are our siblings of color to bear? Lord Jesus, please come! We need your already!