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Hallo again to all.

Roman foot in sandalLast week we enjoyed reading in the Church Times and The Scotsman that two bishops and a gaggle of priests were offering free shoe-shines on a public street on Maundy Thursday. The Twelve wore sandals, not leather shoes; when Jesus told the apostles to wash one another's feet he was not trying to give them clean feet. He was trying to teach them that humility was part of the message; foot washing was a lowly and servile task. Having bishops shine shoes seemed to us to be an excellent modernisation of Jesus' mandate at the Last Supper. We've rarely seen anyone wear sandals in church, and the ritual of washing feet in church has, in our experience, turned into more of an awkward and voyeuristic spectacle than a reminder of Christ's message.

An Adidas shoeAlas, our joy was short-lived, when a local teenager reminded us that neither he, nor anyone he knew, owned shoes that were capable of receiving a shine. Shoe polish is not good for Reeboks, Adidas, Nikes, or New Balance. By the time that the ritual was updated from washing sandal-clad feet to polishing leather shoes, even the updated ritual was obsolete.

Our teenage friend who has never owned shinable shoes has paid for a quarterly pedicure out of his meagre allowance ever since he was old enough to enter a nail shop. 'I don't shine my shoes; I shine my feet.' Manicure and pedicure shops, considered an outrageous luxury a few decades ago, are now easy to find worldwide, scattered among other small service businesses such as petrol stations, newsstands, or fish-and-chips shops. The staff who give pedicures are often not treated any better by their clients than were the servants of the first century who washed the feet of visitors to their masters' houses.

Is pedicure by bishops the next logical step? Probably not; it requires special training and licensing that most bishops wouldn't have. Washing cars or pumping petrol? Too impersonal. Emptying rubbish bins? Can't be done as a public spectacle. Haircuts? Would you want your hair cut by a bishop? Sweeping sidewalks with a broom? Too different from the Biblical mandate of washing feet. So many of the so-called 'menial' jobs these days are hidden away in law offices, telephone support desks, and copy rooms. Should Jesus have demonstrated the value of humility by hoovering carpets or cleaning toilets? Probably not.

So maybe we continue the embarrassing tradition of washing feet in church simply because our modern life is so different from that of The Twelve that we cannot even translate the ritual act into a contemporary equivalent. Every year, as our culture moves away from that of Simon and Andrew and Peter and Thomas and Bartholomew, it becomes harder and harder to preserve the ideas once so simply expressed.

See you next week. That still means seven days.

Cynthia McFarland's signature
Brian Reid's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 18 April 2004


A thin blue line
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