Have you looked at your feet recently? If your feet are anything like mine, they’re not the most attractive part of our body! It is unlikely that you will see many social media accounts that have either the profile or background photo featuring feet! Most of us have feet that are unattractive—they can certainly be one of the parts of our body upon which we bestow greater care and dignity (see 1 Corinthians 12). So to make our feet more attractive both men and women seek appealing shoes. For some women, particularly in the warmer months when sandals might be worn, nails are painted with bright coloured polishes. All of these are designed to do one of two things—either to cover our feet, or alternatively, to try to make them more attractive. Unless it is a baby of one week old seen in the accompanying photo, we would not describe feet as ‘beautiful’.
But in today’s third reading (Romans 10, 11), that is exactly the description the apostle Paul uses. He says:
“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10 v 15)
Paul is quoting from Isaiah 52, with a slight change. Isaiah, in a section in which he focuses on the ‘servant of the LORD’, writes these words:
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (verse 7)
The slight change is from the specific ‘him’ (the man whom Isaiah is revealing as ‘the servant of the LORD’) to the word “those” in Romans. In other words, while both passages speak of the work of the one who preaches, firstly the Lord Jesus, but then all of us—those who are his disciples—it is the work of preaching the good news that is the subject of both passages. There is a blessing being pronounced upon any person who is prepared to promote and bring to others the good news of salvation.
Paul’s quotation in today’s reading follows a series of leading questions arising from a quotation from the prophecy of Joel (ch 2 v 32):
“There is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?
And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?
And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?
And how can they preach unless they are sent?
As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news’!” (Rom 10 vv 12—15)
It is a wonderful reminder to us all of God’s grace. He wants all to be saved and His message is freely available to all and He richly blesses all who call upon Him and seek Him. But God needs you and I AND our feet. He needs us to ‘walk’ or ‘move’ so that we find those who have not called upon Him because, until now, they have not heard about Him. Obviously, God isn’t saying literally that our feet are beautiful. The figure that is being used is that the messenger who brings the saving message of the Gospel to those who are perishing is precious and beautiful to God. They are doing His work.
It is interesting that in recent weeks in our second reading we have been reminded of two men who responded quite differently to this need. Isaiah seemed simply to hear the call and willingly responded:
“I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I, send me!” (Isaiah 6 v 8)
And so Isaiah was told, “go and tell this people”! He is portrayed as a willing volunteer. He saw the need of his people and he responded, ‘I am willing, please let me do this necessary work!’ On the other hand, Jeremiah, whose prophecies we are currently reading, had at least one occasion when he wasn’t keen to have ‘beautiful feet’. He was wishing that God hadn’t asked him. Jeremiah, like many of God’s prophets received some very poor responses from those to whom God asked him to speak. In our second reading last Thursday, Jeremiah complains to God:
“You deceived me, LORD, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the LORD has brought me insult and reproach all day long. But if I say, ‘I will not mention His word or speak anymore in His name,’ His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot!” (Jeremiah 20 vv 7—9).
We live in unusual but compelling times. The world needs the salvation which God freely offers. Many of the people around us despair as they see what is happening around them and simply do not know what is in store for themselves or succeeding generations. And both Daniel and the Lord Jesus tell us that in the last days, things will be worse than at any time in human history. So perhaps we can take an example from our two prophets and respond like Isaiah and say, “here I am, send me!”. On the other hand, we could be like Jeremiah and be so filled with gratitude that comes from knowing what God has done for us, that we simply ‘explode’ because His word is like a fire burning within us and we simply cannot contain it! We speak up at every opportunity, or make opportunity, to bring the message of God’s grace and salvation to those whom we meet.
But know this—feet that bring the message of salvation ARE ‘beautiful’! And the people who belong to them, are richly blessed both now and in the time to come!