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Traveling to the Holy Land opened my eyes in many ways. One experience that contributed to this was witnessing and beginning to comprehend the geography of the place. When you travel there, the Scripture that you have known in words and images comes alive. You begin to comprehend distances and proximity. Phrases like “up to Jerusalem” or “into the wilderness” garner new appreciation as their contexts begin to make sense.
I remember being in Bethany and then at the top of the Mount of Olives looking across the valley to the Golden Gate in the ancient eastern city wall of Old Jerusalem. Far below was the Garden of Gethsemane. South of there,and a little to the west was Mount Zion where tradition holds Jesus ate his last Passover meal with his friends. Caiaphas’ palace was not far from there. Herod’s palace was on the west side of the city. The Praetorium where Pilate ruled could very well have been all the way over in the northeast quarter.
These were all places that Jesus traveled between in his last week before being crucified, most of them over the course of his last night. Back and forth over rough cobblestone as he traversed the city. Down to the valley and back up again on rocky dirt paths. Place, to place, to place, all on foot. Such was life in ancient Palestine, but even more so for an itinerant preacher and his entourage of disciples who traveled the length and breadth of the entire country, all on foot. Perhaps it could be said that sore, tired feet were a sign of successful ministry. Perhaps this is the reason that Jesus, over the course of his last few hours with his disciples, chose to serve them by tending to their feet.
On the one hand, his actions served to teach those who followed him about the suffering servant and how we are called to serve others in gentleness and humility. On the other hand, perhaps Jesus’ actions were prophetic in the sense that by caring for the wear and tear of their feet, Jesus was acknowledging the hard work and sacrifices that his followers had already made, and at the same time he was readying them for the long and difficult roads they would travel in the future as they continued the work he had begun.
I don’t know that I have ever considered the theological importance of feet. It doesn’t take long, however, in reading scripture to stumble upon a multitude of references. From walking in the Garden to journey’s in the wilderness, it is our feet that take us to the places that God calls us. There are truly beautiful images such the woman anointing Jesus’ feet with costly oil and Isaiah’s declaration, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”” At their heart, these images convey to same message.
In Jesus, God came to us to lead us, to show us the way to eternal, abundant life. His expectation is that we will lead and show others. His commands are to get up… to go… to love. His desire is that, although the road ahead of us might be challenging and even dangerous at times, that we walk this road together; that we walk this road with him.
Photo Credit: Noel Wygiera. Somewhere in Mt. Zion.