Sunday, September 21, 2008

cleanliness is not next to godliness... :-)

In Luke 8:43-48 (also found in Matthew 9 and Mark 5) we read the story of a woman in a crowd, who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years and touched Jesus' cloak, hoping to be healed. In reading this passage as part of a devotional the other day, I saw something I had never noticed before: This story gives us a profound insight into Jesus' approach to the "unclean" in our midst. In Jewish culture, to be unclean meant that one was, at least for a time, unacceptable to God, and could not enter the temple to worship. Having any contact with one who was unclean would make you unclean as well. The woman must have known that touching Jesus would make him unclean - and that was a big risk to take. Yet she chose, in her desperation to find healing, to touch him anyway.

The implications here are, I think, truly life-changing. Previously, I had read about Jesus' response to the unclean -- how he ate with "sinners," how he touched lepers and healed them, etc. But I had seen all of that as taking place on Jesus' own terms -- HE was the one who decided to make contact with the unclean. But this story makes it clear that God's healing power and grace is available even when it seems that God is not initiating the contact, or even paying attention to us. In the mere fact of God becoming human, God is already choosing to make that healing available to all humanity. God's transformative power is not diminished by his coming into contact with our unclean world, and it won't be diminished by any of us.

I think sometimes we worry that if we come to Jesus just as we are, we will "taint" Jesus with our uncleanliness. We think that God will be angry with us for getting things all dirty and messy. So we either walk away feeling rejected, or we try to make ourselves as clean as possible, providing all sorts of reasons why we aren't dirty after all. I think, unfortunately, the church bears most of the blame for this attitude. The church has too often taught that there are some people who are worthy of entering into the community of worship, and some who are not. There is an underlying fear of making Jesus unclean. For many people, this fear keeps them from coming to Christ, because they have been fed the lie that God does not accept the unclean.

The opposite is true! Not only is Jesus NOT made unclean by the woman, he heals her and makes her clean! So approach, reach out, and touch Jesus, no matter how "unclean" you may be, and see what happens. It may not be what you expect, but if you are willing to risk "making Jesus unclean," you may find that something miraculous will happen.