(A series of eight installments)
Number Three – Be Careful Little Feet
By the time you read this opinion column we should be well within the season of Lent and our journey following Christ to the cross, his sacrifice, death and resurrection. For many, following the Lenten season is a wonderful and memorable faith tradition.
I must confess that I was already a responsible adult before becoming aware of this church tradition. The Army I grew up in shied away from symbols of “churchiness”. We were nonconformists, though we had our symbols and a form of liturgy, we just didn’t call it that.
I recall seeing a cartoon one day in some religious magazine with a little boy declaring to his rather religious mother, that for Lent he was willing to make the extreme sacrifice of giving up baths. I thought that fairly creative and used it as my own for many years when asked the question about my own “giving-up” during Lent.
Following that train of thought brought me to the intimate, if not embarrassing dialogue when Jesus wanted to wash Peter’s feet. Do you remember it? Let me refresh your memory…
6 Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, “Lord, are You washing my feet?”
7 Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.”
8 Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!”
Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”
9 Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!”
10 Jesus said to him, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” 11 For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, “You are not all clean.”
When I read that I get a little twinge of guilt because I think I understand Peter’s intent and desire. I suspect I might have reacted in a similar manner… perhaps you may identify with Peter too. Peter serves as an example to his fellow and future disciples regarding our daily walk with Jesus.
The strength of translation is the translator’s ability to express the thought and context of the speaker and their words. What we miss in the translation is the correction Jesus gives to Peter through his choice of words. We are fortunate to live in an age when we do not need to be an expert in translation of languages because the experts have already captured the meaning and our software aids us in detecting nuance of terms used. It is in this exchange that we find such an example. Jesus is using the word pous– pou/$ that literally and figuratively mean a foot; that is, a walking around and kicking implement on the end of your leg. When Jesus answers Peter’s request he uses another word, nipto – ni/ptw that means to cleanse hands, feet, and face as one might do before entering the temple for worship. That’s why we hear Jesus telling Peter that he doesn’t need an entire bath. Jesus draws this distinction for a purpose…and what would that be? I’m so glad you asked…
Do you remember this little Sunday school chorus? “Be careful little feet where you go, be careful little feet where you go. There’s a Father up above, looking down in tender love, so be careful little feet where you go.” While the chorus is very elementary, its essence was the message Jesus was attempting to communicate in this exchange.
Jesus was very concerned about the walking around, the living around, and talking around of his followers. He wanted a close and intimate relationship with his followers in the first century as much as he wants a close and intimate relationship with his followers in the twenty-first century. The first step of that intimacy is keeping our feet clean…figuratively. The world in which we live invites the believer to frame the word of God through the eyes and opinions of the current societal trends and norms. The believer whose feet are washed daily frames the world, its opinions, trends and norms through the truth of God’s word. The bathing or washing came through his shed blood, making us clean. The walk, or keeping our feet clean, is symbolism of holy living. Perhaps a different translation of the same verse might be helpful to your understanding:
10 Jesus said, “If you’ve had a bath in the morning, you only need your feet washed now and you’re clean from head to toe. My concern, you understand, is holiness, not hygiene. THE MESSAGE
And why is it so important to keep our feet clean? It’s related to keeping an intimate relationship with Jesus;”Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” (John 13:8 – NIV). End of story! If our feet are not clean that means our communion with God is nonexistent.
There is an inherent risk in offering a list of do’s or three easy steps to a kingdom relationship, when we know that it is not about what one does as much as it is about what one is; but you might be asking now, how do I nurture that intimate (keeping my feet clean) relationship with him? Here’s a good starting point.
1) A daily acknowledgement that God is God and you are not. I would call that a surrendered life. It is amazing how many get off on the wrong step every day asking God to follow them rather than following God.
2) A daily setting apart a quiet time where you can hear God speaking to you through his word. You simply cannot sustain a long term relationship without consistent communication. In this case, let God do the talking.
3) A daily diet of healthy and nutritious input. The believer should be just as concerned about those things that go into the mind as they are about those things that go into the mouth. If we are surrounded by a spiritually unhealthy atmosphere, the chances are good for that to make of feet unclean, infecting and affecting our relationship with our Savior.
I am certain you could come up with your own list, so why not give it a try. In the meantime, note the way the “clean feet” or (holy living) experience is contrasted with in a figurative manner by Eugene Peterson; “Lives of careless wrongdoing are tumbledown shacks;holy living builds soaring cathedrals” (Prov 14:11 – THE MESSAGE). Is your daily living providing the key to your cathedral?
Dennis L R Strissel
Biblesoft’s New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright © 1994, 2003, 2006 Biblesoft, Inc. and International Bible Translators, Inc.