Today is a day that Christians around the world recognize as Maundy Thursday.
It's the day leading up to Good Friday.
It's the night where Jesus had "the last supper" with his disciples before he was to die. It's also the night where Jesus stopped the meal to wash the feet of his disciples, ending with a haunting command: "So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet."
There is a patient in the jail I care for. He is four decades my senior, and generally unpleasant. Our visits follow a typical trajectory: he tells me which abusable medications he would like; I explain why they are unsafe and why I will not be prescribing them. He then proceeds to yell, insult, and curse. At the end of our most recent visit, I asked if there was anything else I can do for him. "Can you cut my toenails?"
When Jesus talks about blessing those who curse you, I never pictured trimming the gnarly mycotic toenails of someone who cursed me. But that was what happened that day.
A couple weeks ago, I saw a patient who I hadn't seen in over six months; he had recently been rearrested. He came in grumpy with a litany of complaints and requests. He concluded the diatribe with "And I need my toenails cut." I asked who usually cut his toes - he said I did. I flashed back to six months ago when I had in fact cut his toenails. It had been a slow clinic that morning, so I let him sit and soak his feet while I dug for what our nurse calls the "hedge cutters" then managed to not vomit while trimming down some of the grossest toes I'd ever seen. All the weight he had gained in jail made it hard to reach his feet; the diabetes had blunted the nerves at his feet and increased the risk that he could cut too close and not feel it; the years of homelessness left his feet worn.
This day, however, unlike six months ago,was chaotic and busy, and I did not have the extra twenty minutes to offer a pedicure. But it echoed in my head - if I didn't do it, who would? So I moved him to another room to soak his feet while I moved on to the next patient, then brought him back in as I tried not to gag as I again chipped away at his nails with the heaviest pair of nail cutters we had. By the end, he had softened; all the anger he walked in with was gone, and he actually thanked me.
Later that same morning, a man who has been in our jail for more than half a decade sat down on my exam table. We finished talking about his health issues, and I ended as I always do: Is there anything else I can do for you? Of course he answered: "Can you help me cut my toenails?" I could see he one toenail poking through his sock. So we soaked his feet and pulled out a clean pair of "hedge cutters," pulled up a stool, and started trimming. At the end, he looked me in the eye and said thank you.
When Jesus stopped dinner to wash the feet of his disciples, I don't know if their toes were as gross as the three sets of toes mentioned above - but I'm guessing they weren't too far off. Yet he still ends by telling the disciples to wash each others' feet.
Elsewhere in the Bible, Jesus says whatever we have done for these least of these, we have done for him. In that parable, he lists things like visiting him in prison, offering water when he was thirsty, feeding him when he was hungry. The list doesn't include trimming his toenails when they were long and twisted and gnarly - but it maybe could have been included.
Somehow in those moments of patiently trimming the twisted toenails of my patients, the anger and hate they came in with somehow changed to gratitude - simply by having their toenails cut. Because in those moments that make my clinics run late and in the toes that make my stomach church - somehow a little more love enters the world.
So just as Jesus bent down to wash the feet of his disciples "because he had come from God and was returning to God," I know too that I am held in love. In this Easter season, I am reminded again of that love that pushes us to wash feet and trim toenails and offer Love to each other.