“What’s that terrible smell?” shouted the chairman of the board, who was the head of a charitable organization that looked after those in prison. We all wondered where the smell came from, and looked at the odd couple who had come in and were sitting in front of us. Rather sweaty and disheveled it was the man who spoke up, “I am sorry sir, but the smell could be from our shoes, as we walked all the way from Andheri Station!”
“You walked all the way?” I asked realizing they had not had any bus fare, “That’s quite a distance!”
“And enough of a walk to make your shoes raise a stink!” growled the chairman of the ministry that looked after inmates in jail, “Couldn’t you have left your shoes outside?”
I watched as the man and his wife, with eyes downcast walked over to the passage, took their shoes, opened the door, and left them outside.
The smell didn’t go totally, because, “Your feet smell!” said the chairman.
The two looked down at their feet and I felt sad for them and tried to rush through the meeting in which we interviewed them and gave them the job.
Today, nearly twenty years later that man is in America, along with his wife, and children. Despite his smelly feet, he was recognized for his abilities, and moved from the small charitable NGO we ran to bigger jobs and finally an appointment abroad. He had left our organization, because he found that all the chairman noticed were his smelly feet.
Many of us, also don’t go beyond the smell. I remember many years back, as a youngster being part of a choir run by the German consulate, and having to do a concert in Pune, a city four hours away. We men, were given barrack like accommodation, and as we settled down in the heat and no air-conditioners in the room, the alto soloist entered our humble room, looked at us sprawled all over, wrinkled her nose and whispered, “Yuck! What, a terrible smell!”
Yes, I can imagine what an awful amount of smell it must have been as Jesus, took off the sandals of his startled disciples and decided to wash their feet, a few hours before he was to be killed. His men must have been embarrassed to see their uncut toenails, and blistered feet being lovingly washed clean by their Master. And then they heard these words spoken almost in a whisper, “I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you!”
Or do we wrinkle our noses at the poor? Treat our staff like vermin, our house help as untouchables and ask as someone walks miles and enters our fancy homes, “What’s that smell?” If so there’s Someone up there who might later do the same, as you trudge up to the Heavenly Gates, and hear a Voice asking, “What’s that smell? He doesn’t belong over here..!”
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