“How beautiful are the feet…”
This week’s eNewsletter feature story
is written by Jim Teague,
FPCE communications coordinator.
Feet get a good deal of attention in the Gospels. Here are just a few examples:
- Mary sits at the feet of Jesus and listens, and Martha doesn’t like it (Luke 10).
- The disciples are told to shake the dust off theirs as a curse to any town which doesn’t welcome them (Matthew 10, Mark 6 and Luke 5).
- The “lame, the maimed, the blind, the mute, and many others” are laid at Jesus’ feet, and he cures them (Matthew 15).
- When Jairus, himself an official from a synagogue, comes seeking healing for his daughter, he falls at Jesus’ feet (Luke 8).
- When Jesus appears to the disciples after his resurrection, he shows them the wounds in his feet (Luke 24), and they take hold of them (Matthew 28).
- There are multiple foot washings, anointings, and even some foot kissing (Luke 7).
Since long before the time of Jesus, being at the foot of one in power has been the place to be. Being that close to someone else’s feet has all kinds of symbolism. Ancient Egyptian writings sent to make requests of the Pharaoh regularly began with what is referred to by historians as the “prostration formula” of reverence. Other letters to the Pharaoh, from a later period, refer to the supplicants introducing themselves as “your servant, the dirt at your feet, and the ground you tread on, the chair you sit on and the footstool at your feet.”
It’s no different throughout the rest of the Bible. From the foot washing in Genesis 18 to Revelation and John’s closing sign of worship, reverence at the feet of those in great positions of power is a constant.
I, frankly, have ugly feet — but, if I were a king, I think I would enjoy my feet getting lots of attention and kind treatment. As it is, I mostly get laughed at by my sons whenever I show them off at the beach.
We often equate feet with less than pleasing sights and smells, and yet we live in a culture with some of the cleanest feet on Earth and a pedicurist on practically every corner in town.
I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to some of the poorest places on the planet. Despite some of the most unsanitary conditions – open sewers, lots of stray dogs, and garbage strewn everywhere – most of the people there spent all day (perhaps their whole lives) with no shoes or, at most, the slight covering of sandals.
Whenever I could, in these situations, I would go and kick a soccer ball (“football” to them) around with some of the locals on dusty, rocky, hardscrabble fields, and I would be the only one wearing anything on my feet. Toughened by a life of barefoot living, they had no trouble making me and my shoes look slow and silly.
I can only imagine the kind of foot health and hygiene the men and women of the 1st century experienced. Walking was the preferred mode of local transportation for most, and livestock shared the highways and byways of the time. It was likely that animal (even human) waste was such a regular road hazard that most didn’t bother avoiding it.
In John 13, when Jesus began to wash his disciples’ feet, the apostle Peter was quick to refuse. He fully understood that what his teacher is doing was an act of profound humility for anyone, let alone a rabbi. Once Jesus explained the necessity of the foot washing, Peter asked for the other extreme (gotta love his enthusiasm). Jesus, without being harsh, let him know that wouldn’t be necessary.
12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord — and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.” – John 13:12-16 NRSV
Yes, Jesus was well aware his own betrayer was among them. But Judas got his feet washed that evening, too.
I realize I’m not sharing anything particularly profound or new to you. Jesus — both living God and humble King — spent part of the last night before his crucifixion setting the example of service and humility, wiping dust, grime, dung, and filth from the feet of others. On that dark night as he prepared to cleanse the deepest and ugliest sins from the innermost recesses of the human heart and soul.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem on the original Palm Sunday, his feet got a rest. Why? This Sunday’s sermon is all about that, and much, much more. Come (and bring a friend!) as we worship our Eternal King in anticipation of an even greater celebration yet to come.
Peace – and happy feet – to each of you!
FPCE Communications Coordinator