Healing Dirt

When [Jesus] had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and anointed his eyes with the clay, and said unto him,
“Go, wash in the pool of Siloam”
(which is by interpretation, “Sent”). He went away therefore, and washed, and came seeing (John 9:6-7).

“Cleanliness is next to godliness,” or so they say.

Humans put a premium on cleanliness. Every morning most of us go through a series of rituals to divest ourselves of all that is reckoned unclean, put on clean clothes, and attempt to make ourselves look, feel, and smell as clean as possible. For the most part we try to limit our interactions with the “contagion” of dirt and uncleanness: we walk or drive on paved sidewalks and streets, we want food preparation and consumption to take place as cleanly as possible, and we have designated facilities to dispose of those bodily functions we find smelly and unclean. Woe to those who do not observe such cleanliness in habit and ritual; they are quickly socially marginalized.

This obsession with cleanliness goes beyond the realm of physical contagion. People these days want everything to be as “clean” as possible. In attempting to “put our best foot forward” we are tempted to whitewash our image and present to the world only that which is good and aesthetically pleasing and attempt to hide the ugliness, pain, and other unseemly parts of life. We may seek relationships with other people but we want those relationships to remain as “clean” as possible; we would rather not deal with other people’s drama and difficulties, especially if those difficulties may cost us in terms of time, energy, and (by no means!) personal reputation. In such an environment too many just want to pretend that the “dirty” or unclean parts of life are not there; whenever they arise we try to suppress them, medicate them away, or otherwise avoid them. We must always put on the impression that we are clean and have it all put together. No one wants to deal with a mess.

Many times cleanliness is justified religiously. God, after all, is pure and holy, without spot or blemish (Leviticus 19:2, Habakkuk 1:13). In the Law He specified all the ways in which Israel was to remain clean and what to do whenever they were rendered ritually unclean (e.g. Leviticus 11:1-15:33). As God is holy, so Christians are to be holy (1 Peter 1:15-16); Christians should be pure (1 John 3:3). All of these statements are true; God is holy, and wants people to be holy. God’s people should never wallow in the mire of sin and death!

And yet none of us are clean by our own merits; we have all sinned, and have all fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). Our society may have phobias about that which is unclean or dirty but they are part of life. As it is written:

And YHWH God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul (Genesis 2:7).

God is our Creator; He made man in His image, the image of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Genesis 1:26-27). God made all things through the Word; without the Word nothing was made that exists (John 1:1-3). That Word became flesh and dwelt among us as Jesus of Nazareth (John 1:1-14).

Thus God made man from the dust of the ground; the Word was active in thus making man. None of us were there to see exactly how this took place; nevertheless, as humans, we are tempted to envision the event described in Genesis 2:7 as God using His “hands” to make man out of the dust of the ground. In so doing, by necessity, God would have dirt on those “hands,” and even after making man, His “hands” would have been made dirty in the process.

Furthermore, it would be God the Word who would be getting His “hands” dirty, and would again in the Incarnation. Not for nothing does Paul speak of Jesus as the “second Adam”; granted, he does so in order to show how Jesus, through one act of righteousness, could make right all the sins that had come from the one transgression of Adam (Romans 5:12-18) or make comparisons between this body and the body in the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20-49). Yet it remains true that Jesus became human, and as humans are dust, so we can say that Jesus took on dirt and dwelt among fellow pieces of dirt (Genesis 3:19, John 1:14). Jesus took on dirt and participated in life with mankind, and that life was invariably dirty. Jesus would have gotten dirty while eating, while relieving Himself, while walking down the road, etc. God Himself participated in man’s dirty condition, although without sin (Hebrews 4:15, 5:7-8)!

Jan Luyken's Jesus 14. Healing of a Man Born Blind. Phillip Medhurst Collection

Jesus became dirt and lived among pieces of dirt in order to make us clean, in a sense, to heal the dirt. Therefore it was entirely natural for Jesus to heal a man born blind by spitting on dirt and covering the man’s eyes with the clay (John 9:1-5), even though it may seem strange to us. The healing was by no means sanitary, yet Jesus uses dirt to heal dirt; as the “hands” of God the Word formed and shaped man out of dirt, so now the hands of Jesus of Nazareth use dirt to heal what had gone wrong with this particular man. Later on Jesus will take on the cross and suffer terribly, get extremely dirty and become an object of horror and shame, and in so doing provide a means of healing and cleanliness for all mankind (John 1:29, 19:30, Ephesians 5:25-27, Titus 3:3-8).

We humans put such a premium on cleanliness because of our great shame and disappointment at what is unclean about us, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. We do not become clean because of how well we clean ourselves or how well we try to suppress that which is unclean about us from public view. We can only be made clean through humble faith in Jesus who became dirt and got extremely dirty so that we could be healed and cleansed. He did this not because we were clean and thus deserved a relationship but while we were extremely filthy and unclean (Romans 5:6-11). God was not forced to deal with us in our impurity, defilement, and uncleanness; He could have abandoned us to our own fate. Yet, in love, He chose to get His hands dirty so we could get clean. If we would honor God and reflect Jesus to others we must not presume to be so sanitary and clean so as to have nothing to do with all the dirt out there; far from it! If we would be as Jesus we must work to heal dirt, to love people and seek their best interest no matter how dirty they are, no matter how ugly their problems, no matter how many times they may try and fail, no matter how well or poorly we can relate to their challenges and difficulties. We are not to do such things because they deserve it, because they do not. We do it because we have received that grace from God, were cleansed even though we did not deserve it, and want to reflect the God who gets dirty in order to heal and restore mankind. Let us follow the Lord Jesus, find cleansing in Him, and accomplish His purposes in the world!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Blood

And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among them, that eateth any manner of blood, I will set my face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh atonement by reason of the life. Therefore I said unto the children of Israel, No soul of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojourneth among you eat blood. And whatsoever man there be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among them, who taketh in hunting any beast or bird that may be eaten; he shall pour out the blood thereof, and cover it with dust. For as to the life of all flesh, the blood thereof is all one with the life thereof: therefore I said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh; for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof: whosoever eateth it shall be cut off (Leviticus 17:10-14).

There certainly seems to be a lot of blood involved in Christianity.

Many of the popular hymns prominently feature blood; many of its uses would be considered graphic and revolting if taken literally. In song people are encouraged to hide in Jesus’ blood, or request to be drawn near to Jesus’ “bleeding side.” But by far the most common imagery is drawn from Revelation 7:13-14: the saints as having white garments after washing them in the blood of the Lamb. Such an image cannot be taken literally, as anyone who has ever attempted to get bloodstains out of white clothing can attest. Such talk of blood is not limited to song; Christians seem to always be talking about the blood of Christ and cleansing that comes from it. How could an image so graphic and almost grotesque as if understood literally become so powerful in Christianity?

We do well to consider what blood is and why it is important to the body. We have discovered that blood is one of the main transport vehicles throughout the body, bringing oxygen and nutrients to cells throughout the body while taking away carbon dioxide, toxins, and the like. The functions of blood are entirely essential to life; if blood is not flowing to and from a given body part, it will die.

The critical value of blood to life is what makes it so powerful as an image, as we see in Leviticus 17:10-14. God commands Israel to not eat blood, and does so with some vehemence. The reasoning behind the prohibition should interest us greatly in both of its dimensions: the life of flesh is in the blood, and it is given upon the altar to make atonement. Blood makes atonement by virtue of the life it represents (cf. Leviticus 17:11).

Blood, therefore, represents life. The great interest in the Bible and in song regarding the blood of Jesus is really a strong interest in the life of Jesus which was offered up and sacrificed for our sins (Hebrews 7:26-28, 9:11-26). This imagery is only possible because of the second aspect of blood as life as declared by God in Leviticus: a life can be given to atone for another life. In the Old Testament, animals were sacrificed upon the altar in order to accomplish this atonement (Leviticus 4:1-35, 17:11). Yet, as the Hebrew author demonstrates, the blood of bulls and goats could not truly atone for sin (Hebrews 10:4). The Hebrew author goes on to explain how Jesus’ life, represented by His shed blood, proved fully sufficient to atone for sin (Hebrews 10:5-18). There is no other offering of blood (thus, life) that needs to be added to what Jesus gave; thus all animal sacrifices are concluded. Jesus’ life can provide atonement and thus life for all mankind (Hebrews 7:24-26)!

Another potent image for atonement is cleanliness; that which has been ritually cleansed is pure and holy and suitable for God. In Leviticus, the holy place (the Tabernacle) and the holy people (the priests) were consecrated and made holy through the sprinkling of anointing oil and blood (Leviticus 8:1-36). This makes no sense literally; oil and blood do not get anything physically clean. But the physical actions are the means by which the spiritual reality can be established: the blood, as representing the life of the slain sin offering, is devoted to God for the atonement of sin, and thus becomes holy, communicating holiness to whatever it touches (cf. Leviticus 6:24-30). This is how blood can provide cleansing power: not on account of any physical property of blood, but through faith in God in the atonement that comes through the offering of a life for a life and the sanctification of first the offering and then the one who provided the offering.

There is, therefore, wonderful working power in the blood, particularly in the life of which the blood is the concrete representation. The power is not found in the physical property of blood, although the centrality of blood to the proper functioning of the body is what gives meaning to the imagery. The power comes from God and the means by which He provides the opportunity for atonement, or cleansing, from sin and its consequences, and the restoration of relationship with Him. When we consider the image of blood in Scripture, in song, or in preaching and teaching, let us think soberly about the life which the blood is representing, and be ever thankful for the gift of life which we enjoy, both now in the flesh and eternally in the spirit and in the resurrection thanks to Jesus and His life which He freely offered for our atonement!

Ethan R. Longhenry