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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Clean and Unclean

Historically, it has been human nature to divide and categorize people into two basic groups – the clean and unclean, the privileged and the unprivileged or the despised and the likable. Jesus and his disciples were easy targets for this dualistic categorization by the powerful religious of his day. Jesus and his followers were a grubby band of homeless transients that did not have the means to always wash their hands when breaking bread or eating dinner. As a result they were classified as “defiled” or unclean. (Matthew 15) Because of their on-the-go lifestyle, it was nearly impossible to follow the cleansing traditions of the religious leaders. The accusation of “unclean” was exasperated because the men dared to associate with women and were unaware of their cycles, prostitutes and tax collectors – also unclean.

So who are the “clean” and the “unclean” in American society today? The “clean” are easily identifiable. We see them everywhere. These are the people with homes, cars, the latest electronic devices, and jobs. They are the Hollywood stars, sports stars, the politicians, the clergy and the beautiful – they are the lovable and easily accepted ones. Who are the “unclean?” In short, these are the scapegoats in our society that make the rest of us feel thankful that “we are not like them.” The “unclean” are the people who are homeless, prisoners, suicidal, mentally ill, handicapped, transgender, gay, grossly overweight, bankrupt, physically deformed, HIV+, in hospice or are on the brink of decay in our nursing homes – they are the forgotten and the abandoned ones.

So let us imagine. If Jesus were here walking among us today, would we even recognize him? We must honestly accept the fact that he certainly would not come to us with pure white skin, a Midwest accent, the latest Dell laptop, a Ford Taurus and a WAMU free-checking account. Given the fact that he was poor and despised then and is now - would we even care about him? Would we welcome him? Across America, those among us who think ourselves “religious,” would we too despise him as “unclean?” Jesus in Matthew 25:40 states, “Whatever you have done to the least of these brothers of mine, you did to me”.

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Raby Savage said...

Yikes! I just had a horrible thought--I might not recognize Jesus if he were walking among us today! My vision of Jesus sometimes is sheer fantasy. To recognize Jesus, I would have to see him with my heart. May God have mercy on me and cleanse my heart.

Anonymous said...

R.S. – great observation. Jesus comes in unexpected ways. Just when we want him to come to us as possibly "winning the lottery" - instead he comes to us and speaks mercy through a "hobo." He speaks to not what we want, but what we need to hear. He's God. We realize that surprises and the unexpected are core to His nature. "His ways are not our ways."

gufbal1981 said...

Just to expand on what the anonymous person said about surprises. "To believe in God is to know there are many wonderful surprises ahead!" - Ugo Betti

JF said...


Beautiful thought. Reminds of when I was having a discussion with a friend about the existence of God. I was pro, she was con but when I left I was not sure who "won." Logic has a way of turning black and white into gray.

So, as I was driving away, I passed by a spot where I would freqently see a homeless man. Today, the man was different, dirty, having a hard time walking, had straggly brown hair and a matted beard. He was wearing a hand made sign that said somthing like: "I will take whatever you can give me, even if all you do is say Hello."

Charmed by the sentiment, I rolled down my window and simply said "Hello" and he turns to me says: "See, how can you know if God exits, if you can't even stop to say Hello!?"

Wow! That couldn't have come at a better time. I tried to give him money or food and he wouldn't take it, he said the hello was enough for him today.

He gave me a gift that was much greater than anything I could have given him. Jesus exists in all of us and, sometimes, especially in the homeless sleeping on our streets.


Anonymous said...

Wow! J.F. - you have an awesome story here to share. Thank you for telling us.