Martin was a cobbler, a man who made shoes. Most of us take shoes for granted, especially if they are work shoes or everyday shoes, the kind Martin made. Oh he could make your fancy dress shoes, your party shoes, your “lets-get-everyone-to-notice-me” shoes but he preferred to make simple, dependable shoes. Now don’t get me wrong, his shoes were not ugly. In fact they were quite beautiful in a simple, unadorned way. And they were popular. Martin had plenty of people coming to his shop everyday to buy his shoes and he enjoyed his work.
In the evening he would walk home and he would get a kick spotting his shoes on the people he passed. “There is a pair,” he would say to himself “there is another.” He felt a certain satisfaction that his work kept people happy.
On Sunday, Martin would go to church with his family, as was his custom. He sang, he prayed, he talked with fellow members. Occasionally he would spot a pair of his shoes. Martin was grateful to God for this community of faith. He found strength and comfort in being with other Christians.
One Sunday, while in church, as he listened to the sermon, he felt a sudden inspiration. He had always wanted a way to express his faith in Jesus in a more tangible, direct way. Words were always awkward for him. He knew he was no preacher. Still he wanted to do something for God.
As he was listening to the sermon, he looked up and saw the cross at the front of the church. The cross! The idea struck him hard. “I could put a cross on every shoe I make, so people will know that I am a Christian. And it will remind them to follow God everyday.”
The next day he got to work. He tried different styles and materials for the cross. He tried copper and iron, wood and leather. He tried big crosses and little crosses. He put them on the front of the shoe and the back of the shoe. He wanted the cross to be perfect because he wanted to express his love of Jesus in that cross.
As he added the cross to his shoes, he expected his customers to comment or ask questions about the shoe cross. Only a few did. Most customers asked about fit, comfort and durability, questions they always asked when they bought shoes. Still Martin would not be deterred. He continued to invest time and thought into the crosses he made. He wanted to make a good impression.
But as the weeks and months went by, he discovered that he had fewer and fewer customers. He thought to himself, “The crosses must be costing me business. Well, Jesus said we might suffer persecution when we follow him. I guess this is the cost I will have to bear to follow Jesus.”
But he was particularly struck that many of his fellow church member were not wearing his shoes. Were they offended by the cross? This gnawed at him for several weeks, until finally after church one Sunday, he asked one of his former customers , Pete.
“Pete, I feel strange asking this, but I’ve got to know. I noticed that you stopped coming to my shop to buy your shoes. Is it because I put a cross on them?”
Pete responded. “The crosses? No, I don’t mind that you added a cross. ”
“Then why did you stop coming?”
Pete, looking a bit sheepish, replied. “Well to be honest, your shoes don’t seem as comfortable as they use to be. Your shoes use to be the best in town. Lately they seem just average.”
And then it dawned on Martin. He had become so focused on making crosses for his shoes that he had cut corners on the shoes themselves. He checked this out with other former customers and they concurred with Pete. Martin’s shoes were not as good as before.
That afternoon Martin shared his insight with his wife. “I am so confused. I thought I was doing God’s will by putting the cross on the shoes. Instead I seemed to be ruining my business.”
His wise wife listened and said. “You know Martin, you were doing God’s will all along when you made good shoes for people. Doesn’t the Bible tell us to love our neighbor as ourselves? What is more a practical way to love your neighbor than to provide them with good durable shoes? “
The next day Martin took all the elaborate crosses he had made and put them in a bottom drawer. He refocused himself on making simple, comfortable, durable shoes. And inside each pair, hidden from view, he sewed a simple leather cross, to remind himself that as he served his customers he was serving Jesus.