Pastor Scott Hannon
St. John Lutheran Church, Amhert, NY
By far the most concerned I have ever been about cleanliness was in the days and weeks following the birth of my first daughter, Molly. My wife and I, who are far from neat-freaks, became OCD overnight when it came to hand washing and sterilization. If we suspected someone was sick, they were banned from visiting our baby. If grandma or grandpa sneezed, they were rushed from the room. We kept her in the house for months – afraid to expose her to this cruel world. We had a checklist like the Red Cross for everyone who wanted to hold our baby…
- When was the last time you washed your hands?
- Have you traveled outside the U.S. in the last 6 months?
- Do you have a tattoo?
- Is anyone in your household sick?
OK. There might be a little bit of exaggeration there, but we truly were nuts.
Then, an interesting thing happened. When baby #2 (Delaney) came around 2 years later all of the insanity related to germs and sanitation never surfaced. We preferred folks to wash their hands before handling our kid, but most of the time we broke our own rule. She went out into the world weeks sooner than her sister had. She was handled by folks who sneezed and passed around the room without fear of what she might catch. I don’t know if it was a reality check or just exhaustion, but our prior OCD vanished as quickly as it came on.
Jesus once discussed cleanliness with his disciples. He essentially said that their over the top ritual and purification practices are just that… over the top. Later in the story, a woman who is deemed “unclean” came to Jesus and he was forced to take some of his own advice. He came to realize that she was not a “throw-away” person to be avoided at all cost, but a woman of great faith.
“It is not what goes into a person that defiles, but what comes out.” ~Jesus
What Jesus teaches is that cleanliness matters, certainly, but to be truly clean it is not enough to wash our hands or watch what we eat. To be truly clean is to watch not just what goes into our bodies, but what comes out – the actions we perform, the words we speak, and the thoughts we think. Jesus points out to a particularly pure people that they really aren’t that clean at all. He also points out that the woman they think is so filthy is actually better off than all of them because while her hands are dirty, her heart is clean.
There is a temptation to let empty ritual lull us into complacency and content. It’s easy to let truly living well and right be replaced with a few easy purity practices. We think… It’s enough to go to church once a week; I don’t have to be Christian at home. It’s enough to read my Bible; I can still hate my neighbor. It’s enough to have my kid baptized; I don’t have to raise him in a church. We wash our hands, but not our hearts.
And so, Jesus’ invitation to us is to…
- Forget about that dirt under our nails; focus on the dirt on our hearts.
- Forget about the mess in your homes; focus on the messier parts of life.
- Forget about the cleanliness of others; they just might be a person of great faith.
Life is messy. So am I. So are my kids. Thank you Jesus for walking into our lives and seeing beyond our mess.
For more inspiration and insights from Pastor Scott’s past columns, please visit www.jamestowngazette.com and click on the Faith Matters page. The Jamestown Gazette is proud to present our county’s most creative and original writers for your enjoyment and enlightenment.