Tag Archives: unclean

Veil of Tears 105: Unwashed

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The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus 2and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed.” Mark 7:1 NIV

There is an apocryphal story that surfaces on social media every so often of a pastor, newly appointed to a church, and largely unknown there, who turns up at a service a week before his induction disguised as a tramp. He is covered in ragged clothing and he smells. Though one or two people are kind, he is given a wide berth, snubbed and generally made to feel unwelcome, before being asked to leave. The following week he comes in as the new church leader and tells the congregation what he did to shame them into seeing the unwashed with new eyes.

I doubt the story is true, and I’m not sure that shaming is a particularly kind teaching method, but the fact that this could be true, ought to get everyone thinking who participates in any kind of community that professes to have Christ at its centre.

I don’t believe there is any record of Jesus ever being disgusted by anyone’s outer appearance, gender, race or hygiene. The only thing that seemed to revolt him was the stink of self-righteousness that he found most strongly radiating from the religious people of the day, from the Pharisees in particular. He spent time with tavern keepers, lepers, prostitutes, homeless people, disabled people, loose women, the deranged and the possessed. In short, with all those the “good” people deemed unclean and would not associate with.

He hung around with them, befriended them, taught them, healed them and forgave them when it was necessary. He and his crowd of travelling followers, often dusty and sweaty in the Middle East heat, were no doubt a bit wild and unkempt like the prophets of old, like John the Baptist who heralded Jesus’ arrival clothed in camel’s hair and with bits of honeyed locust in his beard. They were social pariahs, not the goody-two-shoes keeping-their-noses-clean puritanical religious elite.

You know what else? I don’t think Jesus’ robe was white that often. I think he probably needed (by our western modern running water standards) more trips to the river (bath/laundrette) and that he and twelve other blokes walking miles across the whole of Judea, with or without the hundreds of other followers of this strange parochial Rabbi, probably sweated and whiffed a bit on occasion. I think some of them probably swore now and again. I think that they were human and I like that idea.

I also think that if we get caught up in constantly cleaning ourselves on the outside and worrying incessantly about whether we are in a state of grace nor not, that we will spend too much time washing and confessing and not enough time relating and laughing with, learning from, adoring and pondering God. Besides which, if we leave our feet dusty, perspiring and tired, and admit they are made of clay, we might just find our Saviour-friend taking them in his hands over a bowl of water, giving us rest from our toil and removing the burdens from our striving shoulders.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

 

61: Unclean

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Anything that an unclean person touches becomes unclean, and anyone who touches it becomes unclean till evening.” Numbers 19:22 NIV

The Law is full of directions about what is unclean, and the purification rituals that need to be undertaken to bring a person back to cleanliness. To be perfectly honest, it is all so involved that it was a wonder if there were 3 clean people in the whole of Israel at any one time. Many foods are listed as unclean and various animals, as well as practices and bodily functions. The whole thing is a minefield that took some negotiating. Staying clean was a full time occupation, and quite clearly, especially for women, impossible, which to my mind is part of the point of the law. We need to first understand the impossibility of saving ourselves, of being holy, before we can take on board the need for a holy saviour who can free us by grace.

We might think that these days and especially as Christians that we are free from the attitude that lies behind these laws and the obsession with cleanliness and perceived sin that they inspire. But we’d be wrong. There are just whole new ways of being unclean. Spend time in any organisation, yes, including churches, and you will find that there are certain things or ways of being that are unacceptable, or that will get you ridiculed, disrespected or even thrown out, and that will certainly get you avoided. Being chronically ill can be one of them. There are a lot of modern day lepers. Being mentally ill, poor, difficult to talk to, riddled with problems or addictions, wearing the “wrong” clothes, voicing the “wrong” opinions or even rocking the boat or questioning the status quo, all these things and more can mean that you end up feeling like you should be wandering outside the city gates with a bell around your neck.

But the truth is as Paul saw it, much more in our minds than in any objective purity, for as he said, “I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean.” Romans 14:14 NIV   The purity or lack of purity in something is all perception. If we see riches and designer clothes as pure, the poor and the hoody-wearers will seem unclean to us. If we think our Sunday roasts are sacrosanct family time we might well avoid tofu-eating hippies (like me!), or people who work on the Sabbath.

If we are men struggling with sexual self-discipline, women’s bodies will need to be far more covered up so that we don’t see their “uncleanness” even though it is our own lusts that are unsavoury. We project our judgement onto others, and we can often tell our own unclean areas by the things we find distasteful in others. It works the same way with religious orthodoxy. The truth is that anyone or anything can become unclean to us if it helps us feel superior or more sure of ourselves.

The good news is that all of this antagonism and self-righteousness can be dropped if we truly hear the gospel and seek to live it out. We are all saved by grace and not one of us has the right to proclaim another unclean, since we understand that we were all lifted from the pigpen by the same hand, and that we all fall back (or even sneak back) to the mud from time to time, needing a good hosing down before we smell quite as fragrant as we imagine we do.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay