When entering into a person’s home, we typically take off our shoes. Especially here in wintery Chicago, taking them off comes naturally and instantly.
Is this act simply a matter of manners? Or does it symbolize a deeper feeling? The Bible answers in a famous story.
Moses is out shepherding his father-in-law’s flock. Suddenly he sees a bush that burns without being consumed by the fire. He turns in for a closer look, and then hears a voice emanating from it.
What Moses Needed to Learn
The voice says, “Moses, Moses…Do not come nearer to here. Take off your shoes from your feet for the place where you stand is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5)
At first glance, these words seem anticlimactic. Moses hears God’s words for the first time, and what does God tell him? To take off his shoes.
Yet, the meaning behind the words is profound. They convey critical lessons for Moses to learn before he begins leading the Israelites.
1. We are spiritual as well as physical beings: In this example shoes represent Moses physical being. They cover a part of his body. They tread on the physical word. They gather physical elements.
By asking Moses to take them off, God is directing the conversation. God is asking Moses to enter into a different realm. God is speaking to Moses’s spirit, his heart and his mind, his soul and his body.
Why would God need to do so? Because Moses is about to make a monumental decision. He will change his life and invest it into leading the Jewish people. He has to be fully committed.
God needs the assent of soul and body.
2. Humility is a part of faith: God is about to speak directly with Moses. God has not spoken directly with anyone in the Bible since the patriarch Jacob.
By asking Moses to take off his shoes, God is preparing Moses for this encounter and instructing him in the art of humility. By highlighting the centrality of humility, God is establishing a pattern for future generations.
Humility and faith are inseparable.
Thomas Merton explained this truth beautifully, “In perfect humility all selfishness disappears and your soul no longer lives for itself or in itself for God: and it is lost and submerged in Him and transformed into Him.”
To that we can only say Amen.