One of the notable Holy Week activities in which the new pope participated was the footwashing ceremony, where the international prelate removes his robes, takes a basin, washes and kisses the feet of prisoners. Pope Francis requested that this time women convicts be included. “This could be an indication that this pope favorably considers the ordination of women”, said a news commentator.

Washing the feet of people who are seen as marginal and undeserving has nothing to do with women’s ordination to the priesthood. With some preface comments, John tells the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples: 1) Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. 2) The Passover Seder was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 3) Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; SO... he got up from the meal, wrapped a towel around his waist, poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet...” John 13.1-16. The story touches our hearts with the humility of the King of Kings hours before he suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. The dialogue between Peter and Jesus was so down to earth: “You’ll never wash my feet!” “If I don’t, you have no part with me”. “Then wash me from hear to toe!” It shows how disciples, even today, misunderstand the meaning of servanthood. Instead of all-or-nothing in giving of ourselves in service to the Lord and His children, we more often envision all-or nothing as “I want all the blessings God has for me and none of the discomforts of being faithful to His calling!” In case (for sincerity or show) we actually participate in a footwashing ceremony, we certify that those whose feet will be washed previously had their baths and will be ever grateful for our goodness! Peter was going to deny Christ hours later, and Jesus knew it. Judas had already betrayed Jesus, and the Lord pointed out “The one who dips his bread with me” without negating his participation in the Last Supper.

Once a lady we knew bragged, “My spiritual gift is humility”. I recounted to myself the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control), noting that humility is not a fruit but an order: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” explained a few verses before: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble" (James 4.10, 6).

Last Saturday, while we were talking on the verandah with our adult children, Adriana brought out a box of shoeshining equipment and a couple of pairs of boots which she sturdily put on and our eldest son began to polish boots, hers and his. I jokingly said, “Wow, I haven’t had my boots shined sine Lau bought them for me five years ago!”, and Davi insisted I bring them to him to be shined. I sat watching that brilliant, talented man of God dirtying his hands as he applied black polish, taking a brush and then a soft, clean  rag to the leather and working an almost mirror-like shine into those boots. Often when he and his father talk about deep spiritual and intellectual issues, one of us does some menial, repetitive task as the conversation goes on, but at that moment that shoeshining reminded me of Jesus washing the dusty feet of the disciples.

Years ago, when Davi was very little and we were in Garanhuns, in the Northeastern region of Brazil, where Lau was preaching at a youth camp, a boy came to the porch asking if we had shoes to shine. Davi got together all the shoes in our family and gave them to be shined (and paid for by us), meanwhile talking about Jesus and sharing a Gospel of John with the older boy. That boy ended up accepting Christ as his Savior and later went to school and ended up becoming a pastor. The story was published in Evangelizing Today’s Child, the periodical for Child Evangelism Fellowship, in the late Eighties. Davi was only five, but had a penchant for shining shoes and sharing the Gospel.

My mind reaches out to Ephesians 6.15: “with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace” which describes the way Davi and other of God’s servants develop their walk, ready to stand their ground, and after having done everything, stand firm in full armor. Serving God means preparing, which starts with divesting ones’ self of fancy clothes and sophisticated apparatus,  getting out a towel and basin, or boot polish, brush and rags, and getting to work. Once a teacher at our seminary commented: “If your feet are well-shod and your hands are clean and beautiful, you will be elegant, no matter how simple your clothes”. May I continue to learn the lessons of beautiful feet that bring glad tidings! (À propos, Davi got his blackened hands cleaned with kerosene remover before getting a long bath. Next morning he was ready, serving our church, sitting on the floor with the little kids and then preaching with power to God-hungry grownups. I wore my freshly-shined black boots).

.Elizabeth Gomes

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