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He Will Know Them By Their Feet

©2013 Avian Resources

Pastor John Ortberg shares an amusing illustration (which I'm told is a true story from the University of Georgia) about a college ornithology class. The students have thoroughly studied birds from every angle all semester, but as they walk into the lecture hall for the final exam, they see that their professor has set up twenty-five pictures in the front of the class… all of birds’ feet. Their exam will consist entirely of identifying birds by order, family, and genus by using only their feet for identification.

One student loses it. Overwhelmed and angry, he stands up in the middle of the lecture hall and yells, “This is impossible. I’m not doing it! I’m not playing your stupid bird-feet games!”

The professor calmly replies, “You have to, or you fail the exam.”

“Go ahead and fail me, I’m not doing this!”

And as the student storms out of the room, the professor pulls out the class roster and says, “OK, son, you’ve failed. What’s your name?”

The student pulls up his pant leg and points at his sandal. “Why don’t YOU tell ME?!”

The student didn’t know birds by their feet, and the professor didn’t know his students by their feet, but isn’t it amazing that we have a savior who knows us by our feet?

In John 13, on his last night before the Cross, and fully aware that the full power of the universe belonged to him, Jesus took up a towel and a basin of water. It was customary at social events to make available a servant at the door, to provide a greeting and a foot-washing. This was a reality-TV-worthy “dirty job” considered by rabbinic codes to be too demeaning even for a disciple, let alone a teacher. But in the apparent absence of a servant, and with the meal well underway, we read these astounding words:

“He got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (John 13:4-5)

As shocking as this would have been, it’s actually no more shocking than the entire purpose for which Jesus came. He had been stooping low from the beginning of the story, and he would go still lower; “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). All his ministry has been the same ongoing commitment of setting aside his garment, taking the nature of a servant, and pouring himself out (Philippians 2:5-11).

(As an aside, and if you have a particularly difficult time with that whole "love your enemy" thing, consider for a moment that Jesus washed Judas' feet too. When Judas went to the chief priests to collect his thirty pieces of silver, he went with clean feet.)

Peter speaks for many of us when he resists. In essence, he says the same thing he said the day he first met Jesus; “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8) Lord, my feet are oh-so dirty. Remember that these roads were dusty, sanitation wasn’t modernized, and their sandals came without odor-eater insoles. Those grimy feet are a picture of all the unattractiveness of our hearts, the things we’d prefer to keep hidden for fear of being found out. It is a scary thing to admit our dirt, and our need for cleansing.

In one of my favorite passages from one of my favorite series, The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson, a character with a deeply shameful secret is forced to come clean, revealing all the heart-deep evil of his former life. His family and friends are all present as this shocking admission comes to light, the stench of dirty feet exposed. Stunning grace follows, amazing acceptance, deep unconditional love. In the next chapter, Peterson describes the outcome: “He moved through the days with peace and wonder, for his whole story had been told for the first time, and he found that he was still loved.”

If you are known but not loved, that will feel like hurtful rejection. If you are loved but not known, that will feel like inauthentic shallowness. But Jesus could offer the disciples — and offer us — the gift of being both fully known and fully loved: to see the filth between our toes and still to lay down his life for his friends, to “love them to the end” (John 13:1). Jesus in his great mercy draws close enough to spotlight all of our unflattering hypocrisy, rebellion, failure, and idolatry. And then he washes our feet, a picture of a greater “pouring out” he will provide as a once-for-all cleansing from sin. The work of the Cross, applied to us by faith, takes our sin and gives us his righteousness, and we can hear him say the same words he said to Peter that night:

“You are clean.”

Isn’t it astounding that we have a savior who knows us by our feet?


In honor of the Ortberg illustration, here’s some bird feet for you to identify. Use the comments to try on your ornithological smarty-pants. The answers are below.

Here are the answers... click to reveal.










FEET #10

FEET #11

Honestly, the feet are usually the last place you look when trying to get field markings to identify a bird. I recommend starting top-down, not bottom-up. But form follows function, and you can often tell a lot about what a bird was made to do by looking at their feet.

And in case you’re wondering what your feet were made for, consider this one:

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7)

8 Komentar

Okay so maybe I cheated by looking at the answers. But here are my original guesses: #1 - Snowy Owl

#2 - Cockatoo (couldn't tell which species)

#3 - Blue-footed Booby #4 - Northern Jacana (got the species wrong) #5 - Snowy Egret #6 - Ostrich/Emu #7 - Rockhopper Penguin (but their feet are pink, not orange) #8 - Cassowary #9 - Bald Eagle #10 - African Gray Parrot (I was way off on that one) #11 - American Coot This post was great food for thought, thanks! I do stuff like this on my IG, @thebirdsofpraise. God's creation is truly amazing and can teach us so much. Blessings, Faith

Kevin Burrell
Kevin Burrell
24 Apr 2023
Membalas kepada

Well done, Faith. And I love both your photography and your story. The Tribune article is so well-written; here's the link so others can find ya!


1 snowy owl

9 eagle

11 American coot — their feet are amazing. Swim like a duck but walk like a chicken!


I’m no expert! First guesses (spelling doesn’t count, right?):

  1. snowy owl

  2. Goshawk?

  3. blue footed booby

  4. gallinule

  5. snowy egret

  6. Ostrich

  7. emperor penguin

  8. Emu

  9. bald eagle

  10. coopers hawk? 11. I have no idea, but they are super cool

Kevin Burrell
Kevin Burrell
20 Mar 2023
Membalas kepada

Let's give ya 6 and a half... not bad! :-)


My guesses:

  1. snowy owl

  2. Cockatoo (the big white parrot bird)

  3. Blue Footed Booby

  4. Really don't know- one of those ones with the really long stick-legs that hang out in marshes sometimes? Idk what they're called

  5. Maybe one of those aussie birds that can replicate sounds perfectly? Don't think so but it's a guess- maybe a secretary bird or a crane or heron- leaning towards egret or heron

  6. Ostrich

  7. some kind of penguin maybe or a puffin

  8. I wanna say another flightless bird so either Emu or Cassowary

  9. Bald Eagle

  10. Not sure maybe a smaller bird like a King Fisher

  11. Really stumped even though I swear I've seen those feet before- Nightime Daytime bird? (the black one from BBCs Walk On…

Kevin Burrell
Kevin Burrell
20 Mar 2023
Membalas kepada

We'll call it 8 of 11. Nice job on the kingfisher... not an easy one!

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