As the rain lashes down once again, I pull on a stout pair of boots. Boot laces have become a challenge. If I don’t double knot them, they come undone in moments. When they are tightly tied, I struggle to get them untied. Having to bend down doesn’t help either; I’m not as flexible as I once was. How much easier life would be if I had a servant to do these things for me?
Much of the time we think little of our footwear, except as a fashion item, or when it needs repair. In some cultures, the sandal remains a powerful symbol; not just a sign of status, it can also serve as an insult, a sign of rejection. Caring for the feet, and by implication the sandal, is an important, yet insultingly menial task. In Jesus’ day, an honoured guest would be greeted by a slave whose job it was to remove his sandals and wash his feet; an important job, but like many important jobs, the slave doing it had the lowest possible status.
This Sunday, as we approach our celebration of the coming of the Son of God, our attention is directed to John the Baptist. John created quite a stir (Lk 3:1-20). Clearly a man of commanding presence, his message, ‘Repent, …. prepare the way of the Lord’, demanded a response, so much so that many began to ask ’might this man be the promised Messiah?” John’s response to this suggestion? “One more powerful than I is coming: I am not worthy even to unfasten his sandal.’ And, of course, Jesus – the one he was pointing to – famously knelt and washed the feet of his disciples; a job for the lowest of the low. (Jn 13: 1-17)
I am not even worthy to unfasten his sandal. Status doesn’t come much lower than the man who unfastens sandals, yet, for all that, John clearly had an important message, and people listened to him. How easily we tie ourselves in knots over status; assessing the message by the status we assign the messenger. As Christmas approaches once more, as we are bombarded with messages from all sides; who do we listen to? How do we assess the truth and value of the message?
Oh, and the bootlaces; I can still manage the knots, thank you for asking.
Rev Philip Payne
12 December – Third Sunday of Advent
Notice sheet for 12th December can be found here