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July 11, 2012

“A Pair of Shoes” by Vincent van Gogh, Source/Photographer Yorck Project:  10,000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (ISBN 3936122202) (PD-ArtlPD-old-100)

We know from the Bible that both shoes and sandals were in use in Jesus’ day. Ordinary people might go barefoot at times, but the absence of shoes could, also, be symbolic – whether of respect, deprivation, shame, or the transfer of property, depending on context.

These are the words God spoke to Moses, as he approached the burning bush:

“ ‘Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground’ ” (Ex. 3: 5).

Compare them with the words of the prophet, Amos, regarding the sins of Israel:

“Thus says the Lord: … ‘[T]hey sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes’ ” (Amos 2:6).

Amos lived over 700 years before Christ, but his words still resonate with us.

Designer Shoes

What do shoes say about our own culture? Modern designer shoes can cost as much as a house or car payment – this when homes are in foreclosure, and “reality” shows depict repossession by way of entertainment. Shoes have been wrapped in platinum fabric and studded with actual rubies or diamonds, running into the millions.

Shoes and Crippling Illness

Nearly half the world’s population exists on less than $2.50 per day. Many will never own a single pair of shoes. Two billion of our brothers and sisters suffer from painful, crippling, and potentially fatal parasitic diseases that could have been prevented (or their frequency reduced) by shoes alone.

Here are a few:

  • Podoconiosis (a form of elephantiasis) arises when silica penetrates the skin of barefoot farm workers. It is found in Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania, and elsewhere.
  • Tungiasis penetrates the skin of those wading, washing, or swimming in infected water. The parasite, found in tropical Africa, causes painful swelling of the toes and feet. This can progress to gangrene and death.
  • Hookworm causes diarrhea, abdominal pain, and weight loss (in children, often retarding growth). Hookworm can be found in South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa.
  • Schistosomiasis causes cough, muscle aches, fever, and chills. Repeated infections can damage the liver, lungs, bladder, and intestines. The disease is particularly prevalent in school children.

The relationship of poverty, limited access to education, and illness has been widely documented by UNICEF and other organizations. Samaritan’s Feet International has taken on the ambitious mission of providing shoes to destitute children and adults worldwide.

Line Companies

And the latest word, on the topic of shoes and their absence? So called “line companies” are springing up.  These are not the shipping companies of the past. These line companies (presumably to save on shoe leather) employ the homeless to stand in line, in the place of those with more “important” things to do.

Lobbyists queuing for access to Congressional hearings in Washington, DC, are an example. So much easier to delegate the task to a homeless man or woman. The homeless have nothing better to do with themselves, anyway. They’re getting paid to be doorstops; they ought to be grateful. So goes the twisted logic.

Sometimes barefoot, homeless men and women will stand in place for hours at a stretch, even overnight. They may actually be standing in line for entities adverse to the poor.

Inanimate Objects

In fact, the homeless have lately been employed to act as human WiFi hot spots.

Some bailiffs have begun employing homeless men as “muscle” to enforce evictions. For a fee, the homeless will, also, camp out for concert tickets or sales. Videographers have been known to pay the homeless to engage in bare fisted street brawls or lewd acts.

Homeless advocates are divided about all this. Homeless men and women are in desperate need of funds. But the services sought of them are frequently demeaning. At best, flesh and blood men and women are treated as if they were inanimate objects. Worse, they are treated as something less than human.

In His Footsteps

So which Bible verse better applies to us? It is hardly the reference to sacred ground. But Amos would recognize us; he would recognize our sins. Those have not changed at all.

More than 2000 years have passed, yet we are still in need of a Savior. Amos did not know Him by name, but we do.

He is Jesus Christ…who walked the dusty roads of Galilee; whose sandals the prophet, John the Baptist, did not believe himself worthy to carry (Matt. 3: 11); whose hands and feet were pierced for our transgressions (Ps. 22: 16); for whom the earth, itself, is but a footstool (Acts 7: 49).

If we claim to follow in His footsteps, we must do better with shoes.


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