From beginning to end, the Bible is filled with important imagery. Divine inspiration has allowed for connections to run through thousands of years. God has seemed to deem it necessary to highlight the role of feet, or rather where one stands.
After the Fall of Adam and Eve, God instructs fallen humanity that the serpent (evil itself) will strike at the foot of your offspring while you will crush its head (Genesis 3:15). God promises, as soon as humanity denies him, that he will send an offspring to definitively crush evil by the use of his heel, and set things right along with it. Here, just lines into the Sacred Scriptures, God sets the stage and begins the pattern of powerful feet.
Moses is intrigued and is brought to wonder why a bush is not consumed by the flames engulfing it. The interiority of Moses is spiked by the bush and he thinks to himself “I must turn aside to look at this remarkable sight. “Why does the bush not burn up?” (Exodus 3:3). God knows that he is interested so he is the one who calls Moses by name. Moses answers that he is present. The future prophet inches closer to see what exactly is going on. As he approaches the bush he is given directions to take off his sandals because he is walking on holy ground.
In Joshua 5, Joshua comes into contact with someone who will give him directions on how to take down the city of Jericho. Joshua does not recognize this person so he asks whether he is for or against the Israelites; an ally or an enemy. This messenger states that he is neither, but in fact, a “commander of the army of the Lord,” (Joshua 5:13-14). This word “commander” means he is either God himself or an angel/divine messenger. Regardless, this commander gives specific instructions on how to take down Jericho, but he only does so after Joshua does something very important: he must take off his sandals. The position of bare feet is the position where God’s servants are most ready to listen.
In Psalm 8:7, the psalmist notes that all things on earth have been placed under the dominion (feet) of humankind. The writer is marvelling at this fact and giving praise to God for it. This is how God creates man and woman in Genesis. He gives them dominion over the birds of the air and the fish in the sea. Man will stand over the rest of creation and will be given the task to take care of it.
In Ephesians 1:22, 1 Corinthians 15:27, Hebrews 2:8, and in various other passages, Paul is describing the same thing in similar, if not, the exact wording. Christ is the Messiah; he is God and stands atop of all things in creation. With his death and resurrection humanity’s relationship with God is made right again. Evil strikes at his heel (Genesis 3:15), but Jesus crushes death itself; he stands above any and every living thing. The power of Christ is truly above all, which is made clear by where he stands
Finally, in the Gospel of John, Jesus washes the feet of the disciples the night before he dies. As the priesthood and the Eucharist are being instituted, Christ is truly handing over the power given to him from the Father to the members of the Twelve. Most of the disciples are engaged and enter into this call of service. Judas is also among them and he shows the opposite manner in which one should respond to Christ’s call to humility. Jesus says that, “‘The one who ate my food has raised his heel against me” (John 13:18). Jesus is handing himself over for the good of the world, but Judas is refusing to accept what Christ desires to give him. He will try to step over and on top of Christ; he will attempt to control him. In doing so, he betrays him.
If we are to truly embrace the call of sacrifice and service then we must do as Jesus has done. That is why the perfect image for how Christ serves is seen in the washing of the feet. The Twelve must take off their sandals and recognize that they are on holy ground. Once they do that, they simultaneously hand over all authority and power to the ground they are on: they lay down their lives in obedience to the one who first washes and serves.
A beautiful thing happens when one takes off his sandals and submits to God: they do not lose who they are, they find their identity. In letting Christ wash their feet, the apostles are being handed the power of the Son of God. As disciples, our long-ago Holy Week enlists us to recognize the holy ground we are on and serve as the true servant taught us: through unconditional and sacrificial love. The key to unlocking the Christian code can be seen in the feet that walk out of the empty tomb.