Several years ago, I made a phone call to a friend, a man named Frank. I no longer remember why I called him. Frank was then in early 90’s. Frank’s wife, Jane, then was in her late 80’s. Frank said he was so glad I called because he and Jane were just preparing to have a scholarly discussion on the purpose of language. He wanted to know if I wanted to come over and join them. I said to Frank, “As tempting as that sound, some other time, perhaps.”
Language is essential to the flourishing of human life. I have shared in the past that a medieval king wanted to know the original language of humanity. He thought it was Hebrew, Latin, or Greek. To know for sure, he seized several newborns, kept them together, but isolated from all human interactions except for the women who cared for the infants. These women were forbidden to make any sound while caring for the infants. The king’s idea was that in perfect isolation from human language, the babies would eventually reveal the true language of humanity. Sadly, all the infants died not from lack of care but from lack of human communication and interaction.
The dictionary says that language is a human system of communication consisting of words used in structured and conventional way and conveyed in speech, writing, or gesture. A learned Christian counselor, Dr. Gary Chapman, observed that language while including words extends beyond to other means of communication. In his book, “The 5 Love Languages”, Dr. Chapman observed that each human being has a primary language for expressing and receiving love. Do you know what your “love language” is? If you don’t, listen carefully because there will be a quiz later.
For some people their love language does involve words; namely words that affirm their sense of dignity. When they hear words that lift them up for whom they are, these people feel loved. For other people, love is expressed best through gifts. Given them a piece of jewelry or a personal poem and their spirits soar. Yet for others they feel loved we someone does an act of service. To have someone do some work for them is a form of language that makes such people feel loved and appreciated. A fourth type of language is having the opportunity to spend time with their most important person. For these folks, it is a language of quality time spent together that speaks volumes to them. Finally, there are those who express and receive love best through the language of physical touch. This type of language is expressed through hugs, holding hands, a pat on the shoulder and with intimate partners, with sexual relations. The language of touch gives these folks the reassurance that there are people who love them and are willing to be close and personal with them. With COVID-19 social distancing rules, we now have a better understanding of just how much we need and desire positive physical touch with a handshake, a warm embrace, a reassuring hand on the shoulder, or arms linked with another. So, you speak English and perhaps some other languages. Do you now know what love language you speak?
Today, I want to talk about the love language of physical touch. Physical touch has always been important to humanity and that language played prominently in the story of Jesus Christ. Each time the Gospel writers gave an account of physical touch with Jesus, it was full of passion and powerful in meaning. I believe they described the physical touch and said little else because the emotions of those scenes were so poignant that they would break the back of words. Now the central, most pervasive, and most powerful expression of physical touch in Jesus’ story almost never happens anymore. Are you surprised? People touched differently in Jesus’ day than we do now. What sort of physical touch played prominently in Jesus’ story? It was the physical touch of the feet. We no longer touch other people’s feet today in the physical sense and touching Jesus’ feet in the spiritual sense probably happens very infrequently. Yet, the story of Jesus and those who knew him is expressed powerfully through the physical language of touching of the feet. Why was it that touching of the feet played such an important role in Jesus’ story? What might we learn for our faith journey from these interactions?
First, we learn that people came to the feet of Jesus to express the suffering and the pain in their lives. They wanted Jesus to know they were turning their lives over to him and would follow Him instead of their own ways. They shared with Jesus and would follow him not out by command to do so but rather in response to His love.
One evening, Jesus was dining in the house of Pharisee named Simon, a wealthy man who was very respected in the community. “37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life [the life of a prostitute] learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him [Jesus] at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them [his feet] with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. 39 When the Pharisee who had invited him [Jesus] saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner [prostitute].’ 40 Jesus answered him, ‘Simon, I have something to tell you.’ ‘Tell me, teacher,’ he [Simon] said.” Just a quick pause here for a moment. Before Jesus speaks there are no words exchanged among Jesus, the woman, and Simon. There was only physical action occurring as the woman, a prostitute, wept and touched Jesus’ feet. Jesus knew the woman’s reputation and the woman knew Jesus’ reputation. When the woman came into Jesus’ presence and Jesus did not shun her or chase her away, the woman began to weep. She wept because of the pain of her life. She wept for the indignities of her mode of living. She wept because she suffered isolation from the community until men sought her out only later to scorn her. The woman cried out her suffering to Jesus and then expressed her willingness to love him by touching his feet; first with her tears, then with her hair, and finally with her hands as she perfumed his feet. Simon sat motionless and silent. Only Simon’s thoughts were revealed but not spoken. Jesus chose to answer Simon’s unspoken thoughts. Jesus would later respond to the woman’s unspoken thoughts.
Jesus said, “41 ‘Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he [the moneylender] forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?’ 43 Simon replied, ‘I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.’ ‘You have judged correctly,’ Jesus said. 44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.’” This woman suffered as she had been used by men for their pleasure. She had been given money but not affection. She did not know she could be loved. Then Jesus came into town proclaiming the good news of salvation and blessing by God not just for the best but for the least as well. The message of love overwhelmed the woman and the only way to express the depth of her gratitude was through the love language of physical touch. The woman wept as her former life began to melt away. Her tears and her hair cleaning the dirt of life from Jesus’ feet. She had been humiliated before men in life as a prostitute and now she humbled to be in God’s presence. Simon was unmoved by God’s presence. C. S. Lewis once wrote, “Prostitutes are in no danger of finding their present life so satisfactory that they cannot turn to God; the proud, the avaricious, the self-righteous, are in that danger.” The woman was moved to express her love through the language of physical touch. Simon was too proud, to wealthy, or to self-righteous to even move.
“48 Then Jesus said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ 49 The other guests began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’ 50 Jesus said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’” Luke 8). The woman at the feet of Jesus was now at peace. The other people were stunned. The woman guilty of sin, was forgiven of her sins of her past, and at peace to pursue a new future. Simon received no such blessing. The woman learned forgiveness at the feet of Jesus and expressed her love for Him and his grace without saying a word. She expressed herself by touching Jesus’ feet. Have we come to know Jesus in such a manner? Do we allow sins of our past whether from years ago or yesterday be taken from us and replaced with a promising future? Do we ever express gratitude for Jesus in ways that do not require words? Do we weep over what was and what we are able to be now because of Jesus? Or are we too proud for the feet of Jesus?
There were others who expressed much at the feet of Jesus. One day, on his way to Jerusalem, “11 Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him [Jesus]. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’ 14 When he [Jesus] saw them, he [Jesus] said, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were cleansed. 15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. 17 Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?’ 19 Then he [Jesus] said to him [the healed man], ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well’” (Luke 17:16-19).
Ten men made hopeless in life by leprosy. All ten suffered equally the pain of the disease and the pain of separation from community. They were isolated and only able to watch each other get worse until they died. The ten shared their pain with Jesus and asked for him to heal them. Jesus healed them. The ten, now with fresh, clean, clear skin rushed to share the news of their good fortune. They had been healed. One, a non-Jew, changed his mind as he ran from Jesus. This man turned around and came running back to Jesus and the threw himself at Jesus feet. The man recognized that even if his health was restored, his life would be incomplete without the presence of God in it. Even though the suffering and pain in his body had ended and he was glad to run and tell others he could still feel the pain of not being in God’s presence. Suffering taught him to seek God and so rather than share his good news of clear skin, the healed man wanted to share in the presence of God and do so at Jesus’ feet. Do we see our life in this manner? It would seem from this story that 9 out of 10 people are more concerned with the health of their body than having God in their life? We need to ask ourselves, “Am I one of the nine who run away from God when things are good for me or the one in ten who realizes my aches and pains of life mean nothing compared to the ache of not knowing God? Am I found running away from God or am I found at the feet of Jesus savoring the presence of God?”
On another occasion, some women made their way to a garden to the tomb where Jesus’ body, dead from the crucifixion, was laid to rest. The women wanted to clean and care for Jesus body with spices. When the women arrived at the tomb, they found it empty. Messengers, two angels, said Jesus had arisen. So the women hurried from the tomb with this mixture of fear and joy. “9 Suddenly Jesus met them. ‘Greetings,’ he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me’” (Matthew 28:8-10). These women had grieved the death of Jesus. They suffered believing all hope had died with Jesus. Unexpectedly, the women encountered Jesus, they grabbed hold of Jesus’ feet for dear life and worshiped him. The pain and suffering of grief left them as they held Jesus feet. They did not want to let go of him. Touching Jesus, just his feet, was so reassuring and comforting. The women could not help but worship him; that is they expressed unashamed joy. These women deeply desired to share the good news and be able to say Jesus’ name, to speak of his resurrection, and to know that Jesus’ words of life are true. These women, and the disciples who would soon learn of Jesus’ resurrection, became fearless in sharing the good news of Christ. Can we in whatever we may give find comfort in the resurrection of Christ? Do we know the good news that death is not the end of life? The Apostle Paul said, “21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body” (Philippians 1:21-24). One of Paul’s points here was that whether he lived or died he would be with Jesus. The pain of grief was muted by the joy of worship. Do we feel the desire for worship of Jesus in a similar manner? Are we able and willing to express unashamed joy at Jesus’ name?
Language is important for our understanding God and one another. The language of love expressed toward Jesus was intimate and humble. The language of love removed the pain of the past, grief, and emptiness. That language expressed at the feet of Jesus was met with forgiveness, healing, comfort, and hope. It is at the feet of Jesus that we should find ourselves. Amen and Amen.