It’s that time of the year. The days are longer, the temperatures are warmer and the dirt has a rich aromatic smell. I find myself drawn outside, wanting to make things grow in the yard. I want to make things beautiful but to get them beautiful, I have to get dirt and mud all over my legs, arms and hands. I have to get dirty and not mind it.
Pastor Labberton* says as much about the Christian. The Christian has to be able to get dirty and not mind it.
Recently, my adult Sunday school class has been studying the Sermon on the Mount. We often take Biblical occurrences and put a twenty-first century spin on them. I think most of my class envisions Jesus going to the Mount, surrounded by some believers and some curiosity seekers and He is preaching His message to change the world. He speaks with authority which is a surprise. The people do not expect his message to be so strong. “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at His teaching, because He taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” [Matthew 7: 28-29].
Then Jesus came down from the Mount and did something very unusual. He talked to a leper, He touched the leper and the leper was healed. We picture Jesus as a Holy person, special in His words, His appearance and His ways. Yet here He is, touching an untouchable person, crossing the great divide to help one who really needed a healing.
In the process, He got His hands dirty. He behaved in a way that challenged the status quo of His society. Everyone knew not to touch a leper. Leviticus 13 has extensive regulations regarding leprosy, 1, 843 words. The bottom line is this: “Now the leper on whom the sore is, his clothes shall be torn and his head bare; and he shall cover his mustache, and cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ He shall be unclean. All the days he has the sore he shall be unclean. He is unclean, and he shall dwell alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.” The life of the leper was the life of an outcast.
When Jesus did this, He was sending a strong message, that if there is a need you should meet it. It is Jesus acting out what He has stated in Luke 14:5. When your son falls in a well or your ox falls in a well, won’t you get it out? The answer is yes, even if it is on the Sabbath.
When the leper approached Jesus, he said “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” He said. “Be clean!” There was no hesitation. Jesus acted.
Earlier in the Sermon, Jesus told the multitude that we are to be holy, perfect as God is perfect. That admonition is such a challenge. Most of us know we fall short of perfect and even if we worked hard to be perfect, what does perfect look like? Perfect looks like Jesus touching an unclean person.
Sunday a lay speaker preached at our church. Over the years she has been on many mission trips to Costa Rica. She has described her trips, the rough terrain, the poverty, the lack of clean housing. She has taken her time to go there to help those less fortunate. She has chosen to leave her clean environment, running water, air conditioning and all the comforts that we have and go to a place where people are struggling to better themselves. Where people have a hunger for God.
Labberton comments on missionaries, feeling that they are not afraid to get dirty. “They encounter God in the dirt of it all. When they show up for forgotten people, it may not smell good. When they develop honest enough friendships in such settings, they learn that the aroma of their own life isn’t neutral or savory all the time either. Sometimes it takes being in the smelliest or dirtiest place to discover human dignity despite our biases. God’s presence amid the poor” .
God’s presence amid the dirt.
*author of The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor