In these COVID times where cleanliness is now king, I wonder if we might more deeply understand what Jesus says here?
Hypocrites? ‘Two-faced’. Deceivers. Disingenuous. Fake. Deceptive …
They were using God’s word as a cover for self-promotion and power over people for their own gain.
The list for achieving your own cleanness before God was never ending, the burden on people crushing, and the segregation practices relationship destroying.
They are directing people to declare their money, time and possessions that they should rightly use to look after their vulnerable parents to be an ‘offering for God’ and therefore free themselves of having to do anything to support their parents and instead support the coffers of the Pharisees!
Anger rises in us. Get those horrible Pharisees, Jesus!
But then the sledge-hammer comes down. Jesus stops talking about Pharisee people and now speaks of ALL people – anthropoi – ‘humans’.
We know the list and now we now know the source of the destruction and pain caused. It is not other people, places, practices or things outside us.
If it was things outside us, then the job would be to simply avoid those things as much as possible to stay clean.
The Pharisees were very good at this. Avoid wrong food, wrong places, wrong cups, dishes, seats, surfaces and everything else in your day.
If you did avoid these things by keeping all the practices for cleanness before God, then you could tell everyone you have done so and give yourself the credit.
If being close to people with different views, different hair do’s, skin colour, language, and different stories were the problem between you and God, then all you have to do is stay in your little like-minded clubby group to remain safe and pure.
Once you did, you could then hold your purity up as the gold standard above all other groups. You become the pure race, the pure church, the pure ethic group and the others are never as good and pure as you.
The unwanted and unsettling truth of which he speaks here is this: the problem between you and God is in within you.
The things that cut you off from God and from others and damage your relationship with him and people is not God or people or things or practices in outward things, even religious things, but things within you – what comes from inside you.
As someone once said,
“We have found the enemy, and the enemy is us”.
No wonder the religious people are tad upset with Jesus. Now I am upset! Jesus has just undone theirs and my whole assurance that my great efforts to be so good and pure don’t actually work!
I can be so focused on the mere outward appearances and behaviors of myself and others as the way to assure myself that God accepts me, when the real issue is what is inside me that I actually cannot heal let alone see clearly to treat.
I can spend so much time comparing myself with others, wanting to be like them in good behaviour and learned words, or secretly despising them because I know I can’t be that good.
So what do I do? If I am my own greatest problem when it comes to being dirty and destructive, then what will give me any hope, any peace?
It is all about who is speaking this truth to us.
He is in the very act of destroying your defiling inner self.
He is in the very act of becoming the dirt of the world for the life of the world.
He is doing what it takes to be the real ‘God-clean’ remedy, the real source of cleanness before God and peace between people starting on the inside – in the heart …
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. “While we are sinners Jesus died for us”. (Romans 5:6, 8)
While we were dirty and destructive, he allows himself to be dirty and destroyed more than we could ever know so we don’t have to know.
21 God [the Father] made him who had no sin to be sin[b] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Before we could keep our noses squeaky clean or be as shiny as a surface sprayed with ‘Mr Sheen’, he died a sinners death on the wood and in the blood making us sinners clean and new.
And Jesus’ cleansing action cleans in places we can’t get to – like the back of the fridge! His light gets to the dark heart – the places where mere outward behaviours cannot reach.
Friends, we don’t need to keep up appearances here. We need to help people simple appear here in Jesus’ presence.
We don’t need to name and shame and hold up our name as pure, like we made ourselves that way. We didn’t and we can’t. Only Jesus makes us any good. We only need to allow him to name our shame and hold us up in his clean grace.
We don’t need to compare ourselves to ‘better Christians’, better churches, successful ministries … There are no such Christians, churches or ministries. There are only forgiven and healed Christians, and none of them healed themselves. We need only to simply live in the forgiveness of Jesus together in our place.
We do not need to turn God’s good and wise words into rules to be kept, religious ceremonies to be meticulously observed or expectations of appearance, name, skin, gender that must be met in order to be clean.
Only the forgiveness won for the impure by a pure God makes anyone of any skin, name, family, gender and story pure and clean. We need only to speak and do his words with the only thing he commands – love.
Don’t set aside God’s word to you now to maintain your rules for sinner avoidance or perfection performance. Your rules and your performance won’t make you any purer, cleaner or better than anyone else. You don’t need to be purer than anyone else – just ‘Jesus’ Pure’.
Receive him and you will be clean.
Yes, Lord Jesus, cleanse me and I will be clean today. Wash me with your forgiving blood of grace and I will be clean and pure.