Tag Archives: Forgive

Touch and Cleansing

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

There is an old saying that “cleanliness is next to godliness” and the saying may well be rooted in the religious rituals God gave to the ancient Hebrews in the book of Numbers. The theme of today’s chapter are the things that made one “unclean” and the rituals for making them “clean” again. While there is certainly spiritual metaphor at work here, there is also practical application for keeping a nation of nomads alive approximately 3500 years ago.

Throughout today’s chapter I got the sense of reading an ancient hygiene manual. Being around things like dead bodies (which may carry all manner of contagion) make a person “unclean.” You had to remain outside the camp for seven days (we call that quarantine), ritually wash, and then wash your clothes before you could be enter the camp once more. Through the ritual, God protects the community from that which could harm it.

By the time Jesus arrived on the scene in history 1500 years later, the “clean” and “unclean” designations of Moses’ law had morphed into systemic religious and social prejudice. Rules had been made to define the rules. Religious Hebrews weren’t using the “unclean” designation to protect the community, but to separate themselves from lower class individuals and those with whom they didn’t want to mix socially.

Read Jesus’ story and you’ll find that time and time again He was breaking the rules. He broke the rules for working on the Sabbath. He touched that which the Hebrew religious leaders said was “unclean” (e.g. a leper, a woman bleeding, a woman caught in adultery).

One of the most powerful stories is when a leper falls before Jesus and says, “If you want to, you can make me clean.”

He didn’t say “you can heal me” or “you can take my leprosy away” or “you can make me whole.” He said you can make me “clean.”

The leper was an outcast, and he was required to shout “Unclean!” wherever he went so that everyone else could avoid him. No one was to touch him. Every day the social system ensured that he repeatedly confirm his unworthiness, dishonor, and shame. All day, every day he would repeat “Unclean! Unclean! Unclean!” and watch people’s faces contort with disgust. He would watch mothers hurrying their children away from him. He watch people cross the street to walk on the other side of the road. This is why you still hear the phrase “social leper” in context of a person who has become an outcast of society.

Matthew is careful to record (Matthew 8:3) that Jesus reached out and touched the leper. This was not a casual touch. This was breaking the rules. This was supposed to mean that Jesus would be unclean, too. But Jesus’ touch healed the man’s leprosy. The touch made him clean.

This morning I’m reminded of the many times and circumstances along my life journey when I’ve felt unclean. Despite the common misperception of those who’ve never really read the story, Jesus didn’t come to perpetuate systemic uncleanliness. He didn’t come to double down on societal rules, stigmas, and shame. He didn’t come to tell me how terrible, unworthy, and unclean I am. I’m well aware of my uncleanliness without having to be reminded.

Jesus came to reach out with grace and love and compassion and power. Jesus came to touch the unclean person and make them clean. Present company included.

Chapter-a-Day Romans 14

Ran across this pic while doing some homework....
Image by dpstyles™ via Flickr

If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help. Romans 14:4b (MSG)

As I’ve walked the journey with many fellow believers of a wide range of theological persuasions, I’ve noticed a common issue in our interpersonal relationships. I now see the problem, though at one time I didn’t regard it as such. At one time I considered this nagging characteristic a badge of honor, and I see that many of my brothers and sisters continue to do so. I call it the “Junior Holy Spirit Badge.”

The Junior Holy Spirit badge is worn by those of us who believe it is our sworn duty to personally convict others of their wrong doing. Eyes like a hawk, we hold our favorite version of life’s rule book in one hand and our personal tally sheet in the other. Constantly aware of what others are doing around us, it is our sworn duty to get in their face, point out what they’re doing wrong, point to our dog-eared copy of the rule book and call them to step in line behind us. Where would God be if he didn’t have me, Junior Holy Spirit Badge emblazoned upon my chest, helping Him to daily separate the sheep from the goats? After all, how are people going to be convicted of their sin, if I don’t personally tell them they’re sinning?

I have a confession to make. Somewhere along journey I took off my Junior Holy Spirit Badge and threw it in the ditch along the road along with my tally sheet and personal rule book. I realized that God’s message never asked me to convict people of their sin, but over and over again commanded me to forgive them. I also realized as I read His Message that I’m supposed to share God’s good news, which is love, grace, forgiveness, restoration, redemption and life. I didn’t have time to share the good news when I was busy sharing with people the bad news about what awful, terrible, sinful things they were doing and how it was going to land them in a world of spiritual hurt if they didn’t follow my prescribed version of personal obedience to God. I got tired of convicting people. It left me with no energy to love them.

And, I don’t want a merit badge for convicting people, I want a merit badge for loving them.

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