Friday, 19 September 2014
Seeing Jesus When I Feel Dirty
In my last post we talked bout how eating too much or eating the wrong stuff makes us feel gross. That’s the word we use, especially we women. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a man say, “I feel gross!”
Feeling gross is yucky. It drives us to take drastic action. That’s the origin of so many dieting extremes–from restricting ourselves to fasting to purging by self-induced vomiting. We’re like Lady Macbeth, her dirtiness surfacing in her dreams, “Out damned spot!” She sleepwalks through the castle, hallucinates and rubs her hands together as if she’s washing them. We, too, become obsessed with feeling dirty.
Unclean in a Non-religious World
Now overeating isn’t the only thing that makes us feel dirty. It’s just the tip of a rather large iceberg. But it’s the tip that sticks up enough for us to see it. That’s helpful. Because once we see it, we can turn and see the One who makes us clean.
Leprosy seemed to play the “tip of the iceberg” role in Jesus’ day. It was a form of uncleanness that was obvious. In that religious society the law declared a leper unclean, and society enforced it. People shrank from you. You kept your distance. Your isolation increased your sense of shame.
I sometimes wonder if obesity isn’t today’s leprosy. Or at least one form of it. “Unclean” says our non-religious society.
I work at the YMCA. Part of the Y’s mission is to welcome all kinds of people through their doors. Recently they realized that they needed to reach out to overweight people. That group tends to exclude itself from the gym unless they’re intentionally included. They feel the stigma. The Y can include them, but it can’t make them clean.
You Can Make Me Clean.
One day a leper came to Jesus. The incident is recorded in 3 of the 4 gospels. Out of the crowds came a man “full of leprosy.” The disease must have been in the advanced stage, recognizable from afar. What happened when he came? Did the crowd step back a few paces? Probably. But if so, he didn’t seem to notice it. He had his eyes on Jesus. It says he came and fell on his face. That’s the posture of a beggar.
“Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” Luke 5:12-16
How did he know Jesus could do it? He must have heard about the other healings. Hope had stirred in his heart. Hope that it wasn’t too late. Hope that propelled him out of isolation and into the crowd. This man could do it, he had confidence in that. But would he? Was he willing?
So he knelt. Not as if he was proposing. Not as a religious gesture of prayer, but in the desperation of a beggar. Keeping his distance. No bargaining. Nothing to offer but his uncleanness.
“If you will…”
I Will. Be Clean.
How does willingness show itself? In that moment Jesus didn’t just see the disease, he saw the man. He saw a man from whom everyone recoiled and it moved him. He stretched out his hand, covering the distance between clean and unclean and touched the leper–the first human touch he’d felt since he became ill. As he did Jesus said,
I will. Be clean.
Jesus was able to make him clean. Power went out from this Lord, and the man was immediately healed. But why did he touch him? He didn’t need to. He could have healed with a word alone.
He touched him because he loved him. Love stirred compassion. He leaned down. He reached out. He crossed boundaries that no one else would cross, including the boundary between heaven and earth. That’s the psychology of his love.
But there’s a theology to his love as well. He touched him because he was the Clean One. He didn’t need to shrink away. He could not be made unclean. The Holy One had come down not to judge the dirty but to cleanse them. That touch didn’t threaten his holiness, it revealed a holiness so powerful it makes the dirty clean.
The same Jesus who cleansed the leper is ready and willing to cleanse you and me. Whatever is making us feel dirty, we can run to him and fall at his feet. The Clean One won’t shun us. He will touch us and make us completely clean the first time we come. All it takes is the faith of a beggar.
After that we can return as many times as we need to. He will touch us again, washing our feet from the dirt of the day.
See Jesus as the Clean One who loves you.