I had no idea what it would be like to be inside a prison, let alone to have to live in one. Fortunately, my understanding of incarceration was limited to what I saw on TV shows and in movies, but that changed about 20 years ago when I was invited to go inside of a prison as part of a ministry outreach program. I was apprehensive about it to say the least and I had an impression in my mind of those who I would meet while inside. I wanted to do this… but I also wanted to get it over with as soon as I could.
It’s a whole long story… my experiences going into the prison… which I did more than once. It was different from what I expected and in several ways. Mostly though, the men I met there seemed a lot like… me. Like the people who I know and relate to. As I got to know them, I found myself feeling that I had more in common with them than I had suspected I would. And for a few, the ones who trusted me, I heard their life stories and how they ended up in prison. Instead of thinking of them as so very different from me and my life, I came to see how bad choices and being dealt a difficult hand early on can send someone’s life spiraling off in one unfortunate direction… versus another better one.
Have you ever walked a mile in someone else’s shoes and, as a result, came to understand them better? Gotten a glimpse into what they have experienced? How they feel? Their manner of coping? The decisions they made? Their mistakes?
Has anyone ever done the same for you?
I can think of someone who did. You guessed it: Jesus!
Which always amazes me because as the all knowing, all powerful creator God, what more did he need to learn about us? He knows everything, right? Every single thing about us.
I think perhaps he is modeling, demonstrating how we should live, giving us a lesson in humility and service, and showing us how not to judge others… or at least not to do so without at a minimum trying on their shoes first. Jesus got down on his hands and knees during the last night of his life and washed his disciples’ feet. It’s not hard to conclude that his just being here in the first place, his walking a mile in our shoes, is a similar type of instruction guide for all of us.
I would like to ask you to consider the struggles that you face. Perhaps you have had disappointments. Frustrations. Perhaps you have… or are… suffering. Maybe someone you know hurt you… and is the very cause of your suffering. Or perhaps there is someone you love who is suffering. To me, that is the hardest and worst one of all – when someone you care about is suffering… and there is very little you can do to relieve their pain.
Life can be hard. It can be brutally hard. But Jesus came here to teach, to show, to model. When he got onto his hands and knees and washed their feet, he also washed the feet of Judas, his betrayer. How must that have felt? I used to think that Jesus didn’t single out or exclude Judas so as to not blow his cover and so that the predestined plot could then properly unfold, leading to the death and then the resurrection. But now I wonder if he did so out of compassion, understanding how hard this must have been for him? I wonder if he knew just how heavy a burden Judas’ regret would become? Perhaps it was great pity that moved him to wash the feet of the one who would cause his own great suffering? It’s a dramatic and, I believe, powerful show of mercy.
Speaking of which, in his great book, Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson discusses what it’s like defending those who have committed great and grave sins against others. He states: “I’ve also represented people who have committed terrible crimes but nonetheless struggle to recover and to find redemption. I have discovered, deep in the hearts of many condemned and incarcerated people, the scattered traces of hope and humanity—seeds of restoration that come to astonishing life when nurtured by very simple interventions.”
Jesus walked a mile in our shoes and in doing so taught us a great deal. Perhaps by washing Judas’ feet, he showed us that those who hurt us are often hurting a great deal themselves.
Is there someone in your life who could use some understanding? Some compassion? Some mercy? Or maybe just a very simple intervention? If so… perhaps they would be willing to lend you their shoes for a little while…?