Monday, January 30, 2006

dirty hands

I’ve got to keep these clean hands dirty.
That is a line from a Deliriou5? song that has really played in my mind lately. Seems to me that our mantra seems to have to do with keeping our hands clean. That was the Pharisees’ priority, and it seems that it is a legacy that we’ve inherited and embraced. We operate as if our hands are dirty and all of life is a struggle to get them cleaned, or that our dirty hands were cleaned and our discipleship depends on our ability to keep them that way.
But this isn’t at all the way Jesus operated. For literal examples, I think of his creating mud from dirt and spit in his hands to apply to the blind man’s eyes. I think of Jesus kneeling and drawing in the dirt with his finger when the woman caught in adultery was brought to him. He didn’t even wince when reaching out and touching or holding a leper.
Jesus hands were the hands of healing, and all the examples I’ve just given, are examples of his hands being soiled by healing others. It is interesting to realize that he didn’t have to touch and get his hands dirty in order to heal someone. A centurion expressed is unworthiness of having Jesus come under his roof to heal the centurion’s daughter. So Jesus healed the daughter on the spot without going to her.
Of course, I’m using literal hands and literal dirt as examples in metaphorical context. But is that really a problem? Jesus seems to have done the same thing. Even in the OT, God used physical rules to illustrate spiritual concepts, but in the NT, Jesus appears to be exposing the metaphoric nature of the rules by getting his hands filthy, but remaining clean.
It would seem then that hands dirty in the work that has been given us, have no effect whatsoever on the cleanliness of the rest of our selves. God has commanded us to be clean, but has tasked us with getting our hands dirty. If we are imitators of Jesus, our hands will get dirty. We have been given the healing power of the Gospel to deliver, and we’re going to go into some dirty places if we are to be obedient.
I’m reminded that when Jesus was washing his followers’ feet, Peter was refusing to let Jesus wash them. When he was convinced, he asked to be given a bath. Jesus told him that he was already clean but only his feet were dirty. To me there are layers of metaphor there. Peter’s literally dirty feet render his clean body a metaphor. His clean body renders his dirty feet a metaphor.
Our hands and feet are going to get dirty if we are doing the work we’ve been given. Jesus told his disciples that they should wash one another’s feet as he had washed theirs. They are told to be servants one to another as their master was their servant. He modeled the first as last and last as first nature of the Kingdom.
But I think that is but one of the lessons and charges that Jesus gave us by that act. When I think about the layers of metaphor, I believe that Jesus was also charging us with a community task of accountability. Of sharpening one another – iron and iron, of support and trust and confrontation and confession, one to another. And just as Peter’s feet had become dirty when the rest of his body had already been cleaned, when we, as forgiven disciples mess up, we by the support and love and care of our community, can be brought back to have the dirty part of our otherwise cleaned body cleansed as well.
This is not to say that both metaphors necessarily play simultaneously. Just because we get our hands dirty doing his work, doesn’t mean that it is ok to be affected spiritually or morally by the dirt we are coming to clean. When considering what Jesus commissioned us to do, it would seem that clean hands are soiled by and guilty of the blood of those to whom we were sent. Perhaps the only clean hands, guilt free and obedient, are dirty hands.

Just as the feet of those who bring the good news are beautiful, hands that have been dirtied in obedience, when raised in worship must look very clean to our God.

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