Updated: Jan 30, 2021
It is an Asian custom to remove one’s shoes before entering a home. There are various reasons why this is deemed a good practice, but the primary reason is a home’s floors remain clean when one does not track the outside filth and grime onto carpeted, wood, and tiled flooring.
I remember watching a 60 Minutes episode back in 1968, where they visited Joe Namath’s “bachelor pad” in New York City. They made a point of showing the white-haired llama skin carpet he had, back when shag carpet was in vogue. They also made a point of telling how Joe had a “no shoes” rule. He explained how expensive the carpet was and how hard it was to keep it clean. Therefore, to keep it white, no street dust was allowed inside. The shoes came off at the door, and only clean socked feet came inside.
While Joe Namath came to that realization either by accident, or by the carpet installers telling him it was his responsibility if the carpet got dirty, Joe adopted an Eastern custom. If you wanted to visit Joe, and if you felt it was a privilege to walk upon his white llama-skin carpet, you had to follow that “no dirt allowed” rule. Us Westerners often think that is a good idea, but we give up on making it a custom by the time we have children that are constantly running inside, then outside, always forgetting to wipe their shoes off, much less take them off. Anyone with inside-outside dogs also know how hard it is to control a wet dog with muddy paws. We give up on that plan fairly quickly.
The key to a plan becoming a custom is dedication; and dedication is the theme strongly weaved through the readings today. We have the dedication of Elisha to follow Elijah. We have the dedication of the disciples to follow Jesus. And, we have the dedication told by Paul, of Christians to follow the Holy Spirit. Custom means you stick to a plan that knows both right and wrong, from experience; and the plan calls for doing the right thing.
In all the readings, we find how dedication means compliance through hard work. This hard work is symbolized by the plow. It is symbolized by journeys that leave this world behind. There is no looking back once you commit to the custom. Once your hand takes hold of that plow you are expected to maintain the works.
In other words, you have to always take your shoes off before walking on Joe Namath’s white llama-hair carpet. Just one time not being compliant and WHAM! The carpet gets dirty. Once dirty, might as well let everyone walk on it with their dirty shoes. It has been soiled. The inside has become the outside.
Another reason Asian people always take their shoes off before entering someone’s home is respect. You have to have respect your neighbor’s home as you respect your own home. If you want to maintain a clean house, respect your neighbor as if they too have the same desire. Cleanliness being next to godliness is a good rule to live by, but just because someone else does not live by that rule does not mean you are free to let go of your rules and be disrespectful. You respect others by not changing your ways. Treat others with the same respect you want in return.
It could be possible to mistake Elisha’s respect as being disrespect. In the 2nd Kings reading, he is told by his elder, “Stay here,” twice, and both times he seems to have a stubborn streak, perhaps even showing selfishness, by refusing to do as he was told. He says, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” That is respect for the LORD, respect for Elijah, and the self-respect Elisha has for his dedication to God.
We see how this is respect because Elijah offers to do a favor for Elisha, after the two cross the Jordan River.
Then, once Elijah has told Elisha his gift will be granted by God if he sees his ascension, it could seem that Elisha is once again showing disrespect by tearing his clothes in two. He even goes so far as question, “Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?” But Elisha has been rewarded by God. His respectful dedication has given him a double share of Elijah’s spirit.
In the optional reading from 1st Kings, we see Elisha seemingly disrespecting Elijah by returning to the oxen, after leaving them to follow Elijah. Elijah had told him to keep following him and asked why he would “go back again.” However, Elisha did respect Elisha by acting as a priest, sacrificing his father’s oxen and preparing a feast for the people.
The plow attached to yoked oxen was an instrument dedicated to earthly gains. By the plow, the soil was tilled for planting seeds, and the seeds produced a bountiful harvest. Elisha destroyed the instrument requiring physical labor and beasts of burden, the plowshare, which was designed for earthly rewards. The fruits of those labors enslaved one to a dedication to working the earth. He transformed the yoke into the tools necessary for producing spiritual rewards and sharing them with the people. That was an act of respectfulness.
In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he tells them of the fruits of the Spirit. He names a few as, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” He said, “There is no law against such things.” This means there is no limit that determines you have loved too much, you have been too patient, or you have exceeded your legal amount of kindness.” Respect is one of these fruits.
The fruits of the Holy Spirit that Paul named come naturally, once one has become free of the yoke of slavery, represented by the plow. To till the land is hard work. When one’s life depends on the fruits of one’s labors, one is enslaved to producing those fruits. When one’s livelihood depends on one toiling to produce material rewards, one is enslaved to that labor. Call it white collar, blue collar, red neck, or black tie, the team we drive makes no difference. The yoke of slavery is in this earthly realm, not a spiritual one.
Paul tells us what happens when we wear that yoke of slavery. We bite and devour one another, so that others are trying to consume us. They consume us by keeping us focused on the physical and material, not the spiritual. They take our hearts and minds off heaven and throw them down so they become prey to “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.” The list goes on and on. Christ frees us of that focus.
Still, freedom does not come without a price. With freedom from slavery comes a different kind of yoke that must be worn, and different kind of plow we must labor behind. It is not something we can stop doing, and it shouldn’t be something we want to stop doing. Paul named all those wonderful fruits that come from this yoke, from this plow, making the labor of freedom a labor of love (among other things). That labor is a plan that we must make a custom, something we always practice. Paul tells us we must become slaves to one another, through love. We must have ownership of a labor of love and see passion and desire through fellowship, helping our neighbors, sharing our time with those closest to us, those who are like us.
If not, as Paul warns, we misuse our freedom as Christians and see an opportunity for self-indulgence. We snip at others and avoid them. We come up with excuses.
While traveling to Jerusalem with his disciples, one said, “I will follow you wherever you go.” He did not realize that would be a 24/7 task. Jesus told another disciple, “Follow me,” but that disciple had to bury his father. Jesus told him that a follower of Jesus only seeks the living, so that by the time they die they will have been saved. A third disciple volunteered he would follow, but after he went home to say his goodbyes. Jesus told him there was no going back, once one has been filled with the Holy Spirit and made able to call down fire from heaven on people who don’t receive that spirit.
When you make a commitment to be dedicated to Christ, to follow his path in life, and to receive the Holy Spirit when the time has come for him to Ascend in a whirlwind, then you will be fit for the kingdom of God. Anything less than love, joy, peace, etcetera … and lack of respect for the blessing that the Holy Spirit’s gift means, and you are too grounded to take off in a chariot of fire, and a whirlwind.
Imagine how nice a carpet God keeps in Heaven. You have to wipe the sin off down here before crossing that threshold.