To Bow and to Bend

When true simplicity is gain'd
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight
Till by turning, turning we come round right.

-- Shaker Hymn

As one who was raised as a low-church Episcopalian, I have never been comfortable with the practice of genuflecting before representations of Christ.  I am told this is done as a sign of respect.  But I am also mindful of the commandment in Scripture not to bow down before graven images.  You can certainly make a distinction between showing respect and worshipping idols, although the difference may not be readily apparent to a casual observer. 

The Japanese have a custom of greeting one another with a bow.  This is done as a sign of mutual respect, regardless of the rank of the respective parties.  I gather the person of lesser status is expected to bow first and more deeply.  Nonetheless, the custom is governed by an overriding mutuality, which is not the case, say, with a commoner who is introduced to the Queen of England -- or, for that matter, with a lay person kissing the ring of a prince of the church.

Were it the custom in biblical times, one can easily image Jesus greeting people with a bow, and them bowing in return.  There is a telling story in one of the gospels in which Jesus begins to wash his disciples' feet, something that a servant would normally be expected to do for his master.  Peter is horrified by this sudden reversal of roles, but Jesus tells him, "If I do not wash you, you have no part in me."  He goes on to explain his action this way:  "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet."    

It is one thing that Jesus should humble himself in this way.  But it may be even more humbling for Peter that a man he believed to be the Messiah should wash his feet.  One can well imagine his embarrassment and consternation as he thinks, Who am I that the Lord should perform such a lowly task for me?  Who, indeed?    

John 13:3-15

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