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  • Rev. Dr. Steven Yagerman

Codes of Cleanliness

Codes of cleanliness.

Early in the pandemic we became very serious about cleanliness. We were careful who and what we touched. We soaked our hands in sanitizers and many of us even were washing our groceries, maybe some of us still are. We were under threat of a deadly invisible plague and we only had the slightest idea of how it spread and infected people. Through the months we gained knowledge and our vigilance became more focused and less global. With the gift of modern science we are slowly moving out of our fearful isolation.

One can only imagine the mind of our ancient ancestors. With no microscopes and no theory of viruses and bacteria, all they could do was to make the most general of observations trying to guess which behaviors tended to be associated with health or disease.

The strictest purity codes no doubt owed a lot to the desire to avoid contamination. Things were either clean or unclean and things could mean people too. From clean and unclean it is a short step to good and bad, embraced and shunned, us and them. Follow the code and live, deviate and die!

In this week’s gospel Jesus breaks the taboo that divides clean and unclean. He heals a woman who has been bleeding (ritually unclean) for 12 years. This is consistent with so much of his teaching and actions. He says, “It is not what goes into a person that contaminates but what comes out.” He praises the Good Samaritan as one who proves to be a neighbor by bandaging a bloody victim of violent crime. He goes right to the root of us-versus-them of clean and unclean. The priority of fear is replaced with the courage of faith. His spirit opened his eyes to see the deadly affects of fear in all its manifestations.

We have been studying racism. We have come to learn of its insidious roots and how these have lingered and propagated from generation to generation. We have come to see how subtle thought processes make us see the other as less-than. But as people of the book we should also come to understand the very deep splitting that has infected the human heart since the beginning. We are informed by history and sociology but we should also be interested in deepening the conversation with insight from our scriptures as to how natural fear leads to a dehumanizing exclusion and how faith and enlightenment lead to an inclusive global community that invites all to the table.

As we become more aware of the radical ways that Jesus broke the purity codes in order to create a new way of organizing the human family, may we also become aware of the invisible walls of fear that divide us and the transforming power of the Spirit that unites us. May we have the faith to follow Christ out into the world as agents of healing.


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