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

Helping the Defiled

And a woman having an issue of blood twelve years, who had spent all her living upon physicians, and could not be healed of any, came behind him, and touched the border of his garment: and immediately the issue of her blood stanched.
And Jesus said, “Who is it that touched me?”
And when all denied, Peter said, and they that were with him, “Master, the multitudes press thee and crush thee.”
But Jesus said, “Some one did touch me; for I perceived that power had gone forth from me.”
And when the woman saw that she was not hid, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people for what cause she touched him, and how she was healed immediately.
And he said unto her, “Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace” (Luke 8:43-48).

Here we have a unique example of a story in a story– a healing taking place as Jesus is going forth to heal another (the daughter of Jairus; Luke 8:41-42, 49-56). It is a story of a woman desperate for healing– a circumstance that is no less touching today. It also strongly features the power of God that proceeds for those who have faith– even without a direct verbal appeal the woman was healed on account of the power in the Son of God and her faith in Him. Surely the power of God is to be praised from this story.

And yet there is another theme that is within this story, even if it is not explicitly addressed. Consider what the Law has to say about a woman in this condition:

And if a woman have an issue of her blood many days not in the time of her impurity, or if she have an issue beyond the time of her impurity; all the days of the issue of her uncleanness she shall be as in the days of her impurity: she is unclean. Every bed whereon she lieth all the days of her issue shall be unto her as the bed of her impurity: and everything whereon she sitteth shall be unclean, as the uncleanness of her impurity. And whosoever toucheth those things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even (Leviticus 15:25-27).

This woman is ritually unclean and has been ritually unclean for twelve years. Anyone who comes into contact with her or with anything that she has touched contracts the ritual defilement. By necessity, when she touches Jesus, she passes on the ritual defilement.

We must remember that it is not inherently sinful to become ritually defiled– after all, ritual defilement also comes on account of the natural menstrual cycle (Leviticus 15:19-24), touching the dead (Numbers 19:11-16), and for many other reasons. Nevertheless, ritual defilement was a big deal to many people, especially those involved with the Temple service. This woman would have experienced tragic discrimination because of her illness since many would be afraid of contracting ritual defilement.

It may be for this reason that the woman is reluctant to come forward and speak clearly regarding what she has done. She is certainly afraid of receiving a rebuke or chastisement for her conduct. But Jesus is not like the religious leaders of His day. He recognizes that defilement is a matter of the heart and conduct, not a matter of foods and illness (cf. Mark 7:14-23). He is willing to bear the ritual defilement so that the woman can be cleansed. He just wanted her to declare to all around what God had done for her so that He would receive the praise and glory.

The lesson of Jesus here is critical even to this day. While people today do not put stock into ritual cleanliness or uncleanliness there still remains the feeling that certain people in our society, for various reasons, might as well be “unclean.” There are people with whom the “good, moral, upright citizens” are not expected to come into contact, and many people who are reckoned as “defiled.” It is tempting to avoid such people so that we are not “tainted” with their “defilements.”

Yet consider what Jesus did. He healed those who were ritually defiled. He was willing to eat with tax collectors and sinners (cf. Matthew 9:10-11). He did not shun those whom His society branded as “defiled” and “unclean” either for ritual or moral reasons; instead, He preached the good news to them. They, after all, knew they were sick, and needed help.

It is true that Christians must be conscious of many concerns. They must watch themselves lest they get tempted to sin and to fall (cf. Galatians 6:1-4). They must give due consideration to their example and influence and not cause others to sin by the exercise of liberty (1 Corinthians 8). But none of this gives an excuse for not loving and not showing compassion on those whom society considers “defiled” and “unclean.” Yes, people are sinners, but Christ came to save sinners and to die for the ungodly (Romans 5:5-11). Even if “we” were never “as” dirty as others, we all were defiled and ungodly before we were redeemed, and our redemption is not based in our own righteousness (Titus 3:3-8).

It is always easier to shun the “defiled” and “unclean.” Yet just as Jesus showed mercy, we should show mercy. Let us strive to love the “defiled” and the “unclean” as Jesus did, and reflect His image to the world!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Pharisees and Tradition

And he said unto them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
‘This people honoreth me with their lips, But their heart is far from me. But in vain do they worship me, Teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men. Ye leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men.'”
And he said unto them, “Full well do ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your tradition” (Mark 7:6-9).

This is one of Jesus’ well-known interactions with the Pharisees. It seems, in fact, to be one of the most defining moments for each.

The Pharisees do not come because they want to learn from Jesus– they want to trap Him and find something with which to condemn Him before the people. They think that they have found what they need– His disciples, with His approval, do not eat with washed hands (cf. Mark 7:1-5). This violated the traditions of the elders!

The tradition, most likely, began innocently enough. The Jews were familiar with the book of Leviticus and the various regulations regarding cleanliness. Ritual defilement could occur from contact with anyone from a woman in her menstrual cycle to an unclean animal or a dead body. With so many potential contagions around it was best to always thoroughly wash before every meal so that any defilements would be washed away before eating.

But then the good idea became a mandate, and if you did not wash, accusations would fly.

Jesus would have none of this. The issue was not really the washing of hands before eating– that was the surface matter. The real problems involved the attitudes of the Pharisees and the emphasis on the physical in terms of defilement.

Jesus would go on to show that what people really need to worry about are the things that come out of a man– evil and sinful thoughts turned into attitudes and actions (cf. Mark 7:14-23). Foods and their influences are passed out of the system– not so with sin!

But Jesus’ real concern is with the enshrining of tradition. Traditions, however innocently they may begin, take on lives of their own, and begin to re-direct the mind away from what God deems important to what men deem important. How else can the Pharisees be explained? How else can a group of people become so misdirected and misguided as to believe that God would not have children provide for their parents (cf. Mark 7:10-13), or that God would find it sinful to heal on the Sabbath (cf. Mark 3:3-6, John 9:15-16)? That can only be when their minds have been so thoroughly turned away from God because of what they deem important!

It is fashionable to demonize and condemn the Pharisees, and this tendency is understandable. Nevertheless, it is good for us to consider the Pharisee in all of us.

It should be established that Pharisaism is not limited to a particular part of an ideological spectrum. Exclusive focus on smaller commands to the neglect of greater commands is no more or less justified than exclusive focus on greater commands to the neglect of smaller ones (Matthew 23:23). The inner Pharisee may try to bind where God has not bound; he may just as easily loose where God has not loosed. Sadly, those who condemn the Pharisee in others are often blind to the Pharisee in themselves (cf. Matthew 7:1-5).

We would do well to stop for a moment and consider what the Pharisees are thinking. The Pharisees are trying to follow the Law exactly. They come up to times when there may be commandments at variance with each other– to do good for people versus keeping the Sabbath, dedicating things to God versus taking care of parents. God did make the commands regarding cleanliness and avoiding ritual defilement.

But the Pharisees did go terribly wrong. They focused on the externals to the neglect of the internal. They chose easily measurable rules over love and compassion. They missed the fact that God desired them to do all things well with the right attitude in mind, not one to the exclusion of the other, as is manifest in the life of Jesus Christ!

There are times when we come up against some of the same challenges, and we would do well to remember what Jesus told the Pharisees. Binding traditions and rules hinders us from finding God’s guidelines according to God’s attitude. And when we see the Pharisee in others, we should first make sure that we have expelled the Pharisee in ourselves. Let us not bind tradition, whether adding to or taking away from God’s Word, and seek to do God’s will and reflecting His truth!

Ethan R. Longhenry