Wednesday Week 28 Year II

‘Clean’ and ‘unclean’ don’t really mean that much to us nowadays. But for Jesus and his contemporaries they gave life shape and structure. We still have some sense of it in the ickiness of dirt above and beyond hygiene and appearance but the Hebrew idea went beyond that. It’s like the world was full of high-voltage things you daren’t touch. At best you’d get a nasty shock at worst you’d die. And that’s what the big signs are for, all the black-and-yellow-stripy tape—to make it clear what will blow your socks off. That’s what the Law was for—to lay out in precise detail what would hurt and what would not. What’s kosher and what is not.
Touch a corpse, for example, and you become unclean. You can’t be with other people for risk of spreading the impurity. You can’t take part in any public religious ritual. You are an outsider until you follow the ritual to get clean again: wash, wait till night fall, whatever.
But what the proverbial problem was the unmarked tomb—the source of contamination you didn’t know about. You could walk on it and not know. Never know. Never know that despite appearances you too were now an unmarked tomb. That was the fear people had when AIDS appeared; it’s why we fear radiation—because we can’t see the damage done.
It is no wonder Jesus made enemies when he called the Pharisees unmarked tombs. He is telling the ones who were most religious about upholding the system of holiness, most careful about the rules; he’s telling them they are the worst thing their system can imagine. They themselves are what smash the system apart.
There’s a word there too for you and me. What do the Pharisees overlook? According to Jesus they overlook justice and the love of God.
It isn’t hard to hear God being drafted in to justify any sort of holy system, any hard-line agenda, you just need to open the paper. It happens in the Whitehouse. It happens in the Middle East. It happens in our Churches. But the system never matters more than simple justice and the love of God. Whenever it seems that God has to be protected from bad people you know that something has gone badly wrong.
But we do it ourselves too. It’s good to remember at the end of retreat that God doesn’t need our protection. God isn’t afraid. There are any number of things we can see inside us we worry could mess up our relationship with God. We all have our worries and our what ifs. We know our own hearts. But all that isn’t God. The one thing we can rely on is God and God’s love. God isn’t afraid of you and me. God has a way of sidestepping our systems, of skirting even our holiness and surprising us with new things, new life, new hope, new love. God is more devoted to our life than we could ever be.