Salvador Dali’s painting “Ascension” is certainly one of the most provocative paintings depicting the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus. The symbolic elements are many, the speculations even more, and the agreement on meaning is still up for grabs. But I sometimes tend to focus on some of the more realistic elements cast among the surrealistic things. While the art experts discuss the finer points of Dali, his life, faith, and his work – I am fascinated by perspective, as well as the hands and feet. The former as though clutching at something; the latter soiled and showing the wear and tear of life on earth.
St. Luke, writing in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, tells us: “As they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?’” It seems to me that it is quite possible that the soles of his feet were exactly what they saw as Jesus ascended to his Father in Heaven.
While we tend to express hard work and commitment as “getting your hands dirty,” there is something about Jesus’ feet being soiled. It is a sign that Jesus was among us. The dirt on his feet was from the village of Nazareth where he carried on his trade as carpenter. There is probably soil from his time of temptation in the wilderness, the journeys through Galilee and Samaria, the cobblestones of Jerusalem, and the walk on the Via Dolorosa leading to Calvary.
Feet play a prominent role in Scripture. Did you know a search of the word “feet” in the Bible turns up 229 results; “foot” turns up 100 more results. When Moses met God at the burning bush—God instructed Moses to take off his shoes—that he was standing on Holy Ground. It is as though God wanted God’s creation touching God’s creation: bare feet on solid ground.
I love how the passage from Isaiah 52: 7 says, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the one bringing good news, announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation, saying to Zion, ‘Your God is King!’” Our feet should be as beautiful.
It is not just the Old Testament, the prominence of feet also appears in the New Testament where a woman anointed Jesus’ feet and then washed them with her hair—when the disciples objected, Jesus praised her. The Gospel of John tells us that on the night of Jesus’ betrayal, the last and most important thing he did for his disciples was to wash their feet. In a way, the washing was not only a model of ministry and service, but also a cleansing of all the former places our life has taken us – getting us ready for the next roads in following Jesus.
Jesus left his footprints all over the Gospels, and he asks us to follow. We folks here at Sacred Heart could also be asked, “Why are you standing there looking at the sky?” We need to get ready. The Spirit is coming at Pentecost. When the power of the Spirit comes – be ready to move and give witness to the end of the earth – or maybe just the ends of your block.
Perhaps this message is even more relevant in these days of the covid-19 pandemic when our feet have been stuck at home. These days it is easier to think of all the places our feet have not been! The feet of our children not going to school. The family feet not going to visit the grandparents, not enjoying parks and recreation, and so many other “nots.”
Perhaps our modern Isaiah 52 would read “How beautiful upon Zoom are the feet of the one bringing good news, a word of welcome, a “how are you doing,” to friends and family. I think about the parish-wide call program that is on-going… how beautiful are the volunteers reaching out and making connections.
How beautiful the parents working from home, managing multiple children, learning to home school, and so much more. How beautiful the health care professionals, first responders, and all the people who make our pandemic life manageable. The last and most important thing Jesus did for his disciples was to wash their feet – a model of ministry we see all around us.
The soles of our feet are no doubt a little more soiled and showing the wear and tear of life since all this started. But to those we serve, the soles of all of our feet are as beautiful as the messenger upon the mountain and give the same witness as do the feet of Jesus: bringing good news, announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation, saying to Zion, “Your God is King!”