Message from the Pastor

Rev. Sundar SamuelS

Dear Members and friends,

The Purdue basketball team announced that their center Isaac Haas was probably out of the NCAA with a fractured right elbow. Every sport seems to come with occupational hazards. Take baseball. Baseball pitchers tend to end up with gimpy, arthritic elbows. Take football. Football players can end with rickety, rocky knees. Take ballet. Ballet dancers almost always end up with the most gnarled, knobbed, ugly stumpy feet you can imagine. In fact, once you’ve seen a dancer’s unslippered foot, you can never watch the grace and beauty, the fluid movement across the floor into the air, in the same way. How can they move so seemingly effortlessly on such bandaged bunioned, blistered feet? But for the sake of the dance, the ballerina gladly submits to the gradual, torturous deformation of her foot.

A few years before Mother Theresa died, Shane Claiborne, a social justice activist, had the opportunity to work and worship with the Sisters of Charity in Calcutta. In keeping with Eastern tradition, Mother Theresa and all the sisters ritually take their shoes off as they kneel and enter into the hallowed ground of prayer.

Shane was stunned to see that when Mother Theresa’s feet were unshod, they were so gnarled and twisted they appeared to be crippled and deformed by some malady. After prayer Shane inquired of one sister, “What disease caused Mother Theresa’s feet to look like that?”

“Oh, it’s not a disease,” the sister replied, “It’s just that when the community receives a new donation of shoes, Mother always has everyone else choose first. She only wears whatever shoes are left over.” A lifetime of wearing mismatched, undersized, broken out, crumpled-up shoes had transformed Mother Theresa’s own feet into mismatched, undersized, broken and crumpled appendages. Mother Theresa’s feet reflected her dedication, her complete submersion of self in mission, in witness, in love-for-neighbor. The grace-filled dance of her life was carried out on ugly, wounded feet.

When Jesus appeared before his disciples, they were both terrified and overjoyed. Their typical human reactions and expectations led them to rejoice that their master was alive and yet recoil with horror because they knew that Jesus had been killed so brutally on the cross. To convince them that he is flesh and bone Jesus gets right down to the nitty-gritty, grubby reality of physical existence. He shows them his hands and his feet, before they think that he is some sort of ghost, an otherworldly apparition, unpredictable and dangerous.

This might not seem very dramatic to us. But in Eastern culture feet are considered the dirtiest, most uncouth and unclean part of the human body. By showing his hands and feet Jesus demonstrates not only the physical reality of his flesh and blood; not only reveals again the wounds from the nails that had held him on the cross until he died. But Jesus also shows his disciples the shockingly common, grubby and grungy realness of his resurrected self. Jesus’ real-life feet are dusty and dirty, pierced and bloody. Like all human feet they’re an affront to the eastern sense of decency and decorum.

Since throughout his ministry their Master had always been doing and saying things that shocked common sensibilities, it may have been this action, more than anything else, that helped convince the doubting disciples that it was in fact Jesus himself standing before them. Who else but Jesus would stick his feet up in the faces of his friends and ask them to take a good look, even to touch them!

Feet and shoes have deep significance in the East, a significance lost on Westerners. As one commentator raised with the proper Eastern perspective explains it: “The foot occupies the lowest rung in the bodily hierarchy and the shoe, in addition to being something in which the foot is placed, is in constant contact with dirt, soil and worse. The sole of the shoe is the most unclean part of an unclean object. In northern India, where I grew up, the exhortation ‘Joote maro!’ (‘Hit him with shoes!’) was invoked when one sought to administer the most demeaning punishment… In the Muslim world, according to Hume Horan, a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, ‘to have the sole of the shoe directed toward one is pretty much the equivalent of someone in our culture giving you the finger.’ Matthew Gordon, a historian of Islam, says that since one takes one's shoes off before entering a mosque -- as a way of maintaining the purity of the place of worship – ‘the use of a shoe as something to hit you with is an inversion, directing impurity and pollution at the object of the beating.’” (Tunku Vardarajan, “Expressive Soles: Footloose, Tyranny-Free,” The Wall Street Journal, 11 April 2003, W13.)

The feet were seen as the dirtiest part of the human body. Bar none. When Jesus knelt down to wash his disciples’ feet, when the resurrected Jesus invited his disciples to touch his feet, he was teaching all his followers not to lose their footing.

The church wants the world at its feet. But the place for the church is at the feet of Jesus, who sends his people out to work at the feet of the world. Have you lost your footing? Do you want people sitting at your feet? Or are you willing to get down and dirty and kneel at the feet of the world’s need?

Have a blessed spring!

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Sundar