Pause for Thought – a five minute read – Week 16

John 13 v 1 – 17

Put Your Best Foot Forward.

The COVID19 has without doubt affected everyone in one way or another, and will earn its place in the history books used to teach in schools in years to come. It is ironic that the saga of schools closing, national exams cancelled, and qualifications awarded purely on the basis of teacher assessments, will no doubt become the subject of many a Ph.D. Thesis in the future. Education is just one of many areas of our social structure that have seen unprecedented change over the last six months.

I’m sure that some of our young people considered the situation as having some appeal, perhaps an extended holiday, especially when mum and dad could have been at home also due to the crisis, and the weather was good. But for many it was a disappointing climax to three or four years of hard study. At the time of writing this Pause for Thought, one of my grandsons is waiting for an email message to tell him how his academic achievements have been assessed over the past year to give him his GCSE results. His future studies and possibly his career depend on that email.  No pressure there then.

As a youth leader, some years ago I was involved in The Methodist Association of Youth Clubs, ( MAYC) and helped to organise Youth London Weekends, a time when likeminded young people came together from churches nationally and internationally.  In one of the group sessions I asked what young people particularly enjoyed about school. The answer generally came in four parts; 1) morning break, 2) lunch time, 3) afternoon break, and 4) going home.

In my school days it would have been; morning play time, dinner time, afternoon play time and home time. How terminology has changed.

Actually my most enjoyable time at school was going on the school trips. These came along once in a school year and they were the highlight of the year for me.

One particular trip still stays in my mind after all these years, it was a fossil finding trip to Malham Cove in the Yorkshire Dales.

This milestone event took place in 1958 and the school informed all parents that suitable sturdy footwear was required, along with raincoats and a woolly jumper. The raincoat and jumper were not a problem but I think I only had one pair of shoes, worn for school during the week and polished up for Sunday. They were shoes but not the kind of suitable sturdy shoes for a fossil hunt to Malham Cove, and there was no way that mum and dad could go out and buy a pair of suitable sturdy shoes just for a school trip. So dad borrowed a pair of hobnailed boots from someone, just for me to wear on the school trip.

Hobnailed Boots were really strong heavy leather boots with metal studs driven into the thick leather soles and heels. My boots were very grand and were obviously ex-army as they had been polished to a mirror finish, but unfortunately they were three sizes too big for this ten year old with small feet. Mum came to the rescue by supplying three pairs of dad’s thick woollen Wellington boot socks that increased the size of my feet and did the trick.

The day of the trip arrived and with great excitement I crammed my feet, and three pairs of dads socks into the shiny hobnailed boots and clomped my way to school pretending to be a soldier on an army march. It was when I arrived at school that I immediately noticed that all the other members of the class were wearing pumps, sandals or light shoes, obviously suitable sturdy footwear meant different things to different people.

We climbed aboard the old bus that the school always hired for school trips, and it thrashed its way up the hills from Bradford through Keighley, Bingley, Skipton and on the narrow winding road to Malham where we disembarked. The teacher told us that we were going to walk to the top of Malham Cove and search for fossils and then walk back to the bus.

There are two routes to the top of Malham Cove, one an easy route that meanders up a grassy bank to the top, and one that was the more difficult route up a rocky escarpment to the top. Now hobnailed boots are very good on meandering grassy paths but hobnailed boots are rubbish at negotiating stony paths and wet slabs of Sandstone and Granit especially when the hobnailed boots are three sizes too big. Our teacher chose the difficult route up the Stoney escarpment.

Those people wearing pumps, sandals and light shoes were dancing up the path like young Gazelles and Mountain Goats , but for me I was thrashing my way up the path like the old bus that had struggled to bring us here from school. It was a case of two steps forward and three steps sliding back. By the time I had reached the top there was no time for fossil hunting it was back to the bus for sandwiches.

I was not feeling enthusiastic about descending the Stoney path back to Malham in my oversized hobnailed boots and was beginning to regret the kind gesture of dad’s friend who had lent them to me. Then the teacher announced that due to the Stoney path being so dangerous they had decided to return by the meandering path down the grassy bank.

Now we are talking suitable sturdy footwear. Hobnailed boots rule ok.

I had to secretly smile as we boarded the bus in Malham and I saw the terrible state of the pumps, sandals, and light shoes and the state of the feet inside them.  I looked down at my not so shiny, three sizes too big but dry and comfortable hobnailed boots and thought, ‘Thank you dad’s friend, who- ever you are, nice boots’.

In the Bible when we read of the journeys made Jesus and the disciples, they would have been made on foot. There were no made roads as we would recognise, they would have travelled on stony paths and grassy banks. The day time temperatures would have been quite hot and the atmosphere was dry so the paths were dry and dusty making it a dirty sweaty situation for their feet.

There was no hobnailed boots for Jesus and the disciples, suitable sturdy footwear in those times was sandals laced with lengths of leather string so after a day walking their feet would be dirty, dusty and unpleasant, and possibly this is part of the reason why ceremonious washing before a meal was so important in Jewish culture, not only washing hands but also arms legs and feet.

If you were a wealthy family you would have slaves or servants to wash your feet for you when you returned from walking, but even in the servants protocols there was a pecking order and foot washing was allocated to the lowest of the low, the job was so unpleasant.

That is the significance of Jesus washing the disciple’s feet in John 13 v 1 – 17. Jesus the Son of God, the Messiah, lowered himself to be the servant who washes the feet of the disciples.

Through this act of love Jesus demonstrated that the highest rank in the structure of the Kingdom Heaven is that of a servant who is willing to give up all to wash the feet of those who are in need.

The message to the disciples was that they having had their feet washed by the almighty should not hesitate to wash the feet of others.

The Bible tells us that after washing all the disciple’s feet Jesus returned to the table In which case the Son of God washed the feet of him who would betray him, Judas who at that time had made up his mind to hand Jesus over to those who would send him to the cross. Jesus demonstrates that even those who are our enemies receive the love of God through Jesus Christ.

The disciples could not understand the spiritual significance of Jesus’s actions and Peter initially refused to have his feet washed by his master. Shortly after Peter would deny three times that he even knew the man who washed his feet.

I actually liked those hobnailed boots, even though they were three sizes too big and needed three pairs of socks. They were different to all the other footwear worn by the rest of the class but hey never let me down and kept me warm dry and safe. I wanted to keep them but dad said they had to go back. He polished them back to their mirror shine with a bit of spit and polish.

Derek T.