That morning, I was to hear cases for the first time since the earthquake of nearly three months ago weakened the supports of the courthouse. My people had set up a tent in the parking area, on the space allotted to us, and had laid out tables and chairs for the lawyers and litigants.
I made it a point to come early and so the wife and I timed our movements. Nonetheless, because of a protracted hunt for shoes from a jumble of pairs, I was the last to leave the house.
Still we arrived on time. The cases were called and heard, after which, to take care of something delayed, I decided to repair to the restroom inside the fractured building. While walking, I noticed that one shoe had a higher heel than the other, and said to myself that peradventure I might have stepped on something viscous, such as a discarded chewing gum or some other gluey item. When already in the sanctum and after the frisson of relief, I had occasion to look down and discovered to my disbelief that my shoes were mismatched — the left was black and the right, brown.
I left the building in a half-sprint to dissemble the discrepancy, using movement as a shield against embarrassment.
I took a taxi, and while traveling home looked back on the vagaries of the morning.
Shoes. A pair is sufficient for me, but since I have a solicitous spouse, I have four, the black and brown included. That’s not a big number. Still I got them jumbled.
As I recall, footwear features in the Gospels. Matthew writes that John the Baptist used it to emphasize his being subsidiary to Jesus, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
Jesus himself asked his disciples to travel without bag or purse or sandals. He probably just wanted to highlight the need for them to be completely detached from possessions. (Francis of Assisi took being unshod literally, imposing this condition on himself and his companions.)
The humility of John the Baptist was such that, when Jesus came down from Galilee to the Jordan and asked to be baptized, John tried to deter him, “It is I who need baptism from you and yet you come to me!” But Jesus, to foreground the necessity of baptism, said, “Leave it like this for the time being; it is fitting that we should, in this way, do all that righteousness demands.”
We know what happened at Jesus’ baptism — when he came out from the water, the heavens suddenly opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on him, and heard a voice speaking from heaven, “This is my Son, the Beloved; my favor rests on him.”
John was not called the Baptizer for nothing — baptizing was his work and mission. And most probably, on that very day, there were many others who had had water poured on them. Likely as not, as Jesus went into the Jordan towards John, someone who had just been baptized and had come out of the water was casting about for his sandals, and who knows if from the heap on the river bank he inadvertently took those of Jesus for his own.
Sooner or later, he would have realized his mistake and found out the owner of the sandals, and who knows if, after literally stepping into the shoes of Jesus, and learning about his death and Resurrection, he found the grace likewise to follow in the footsteps of the Lord, realizing that faith is futile without footwork.