It’s part of the Sunday liturgy of most families. A kind of lauds through which the morning of the Lord’s Day is to be acknowledged:
“Go clean up. I am not taking you to worship looking like that.”
When I was growing up, I was taught that cleanliness was next to godliness. Once I became a parent, it was not long before I realized the truer truth, that cleanliness with boys is also next to impossible.
My children are all grown up now, several with children of their own. On a side note, it is gratifying to see how God so masterfully answers our frequent prayers as parents, “Just wait until you’re a parent and you have a child just like you. Then you’ll know ….” God, is seems, is not only good but has a marvelous sense of humor, as well.
Children are not all the same. Our oldest, TJ, was, as they expression goes, all boy: funny, bright, and filled with boundless energy. He was also the kind of kid who can be dressed for church, belted into a car, driven two minutes and arrive looking like he hadn’t bathed in a week or changed clothes in a month.
The problem is, to be honest, I just didn’t like taking my kids to worship if they weren’t squeaky-clean. They needed to look like good kids in a good pastor’s family ought to look to go to worship. If you have kids or know people who have kids or know people who know people who have kids, then you already know this great truth: You need to tell them to clean up if you’re getting ready to go to worship.
Of course, Jesus must have been a tidy person. All the painting show that. Sparkling cleaner-than-clean robe, bright smile, perfect teeth, clean hands -- right down to the fingernails. That must have been difficult in dust blown Galilee and Judea. Probably one of those other miracles the gospels do not include: the no-dirt-sticks-to-me miracle.
The Pharisees did not think so, of course. They thought Jesus was a bit of a slob. In fact, they knew that that untidiness of Jesus was another perfectly clear signs that He was a false messiah. At one point, they ever called Him a "wine bibber" and a "glutton." A little later, they pointed out, in disgust, that Jesus did not even have the decency to ask His followers to wash up before supper. (Luke 7:34 and 11:38)
"Why do your followers ignore the things all the old people taught us?," they asked Him once. "They don’t even wash their hands before dinner. That’s just disgusting.”
Maybe the no-dirt-sticks-to-me miracle existed only in the imagination of artists who decide to show us what He looked like. They never needed to add a caption saying, "Jesus is third from the left in the front row." No. You always knew. Jesus is the cleanest one. Whitest robes. The most handsome. Perfect hair. Perfect teeth. (I mean, who wants a Messiah with crooked teeth?)
We've always had this idea that looking good was naturally connected to being good. Pretty people are better people than ugly people. The good girl is the prettiest girl in the story. Always. Cinderella, Snow White, Esther, Ruth, and Rachel. In fact, Mary’s real first name was not Virgin, it was Beautiful. The Beautiful Virgin Mary, pictured here with adorably cute baby boy. (Christmas music playing in the background)
It is just unacceptable that Jesus refused to fit into this sensible mold of what a Messiah ought to look like. He didn't dress right, look right, or even eat right -- according to the top authorities of proper etiquette of Second Temple Judaism. It's perfectly understandable that we're a little bothered by the sight of people with dirty hands, unkept hair, or missing teeth. We try not to make it too noticeable when we simply choose to sit in another row. Well, here's the reality, Jesus insisted on reaching out and wrapping His also-unwashed hands around the ugly and the unwashed.
It's not like Jesus didn't care about being clean. He knew real dirt when He saw it. And, He didn’t like it. Not one little bit. But, the dirt He saw is the kind we usually ignore. Jesus would look around this table full of fastidious men, the religious elite, with clean robes, manicured hands and perfectly combed beards, and He would see all the unwashed dirt. They saw his fingernails. He saw their hearts.
"You all think you look good on the outside," He said once, "But when I look at you, I see all kinds of disgusting filth -- but it’s all on the inside. And that's where it’s the most dangerous. A little dirt under your fingernails is not the problem. It's the dirt you leave unnoticed and unwashed that’s inside you. That's the dirt that matters." (Luke 11:39)
Jesus had some pretty funny ways of thinking. Maybe no one told Him the important thing for Christian leadership is to look good. Churches aren't going to hire ugly pastors. Maybe Jesus never read Dress for Success. He didn’t seem overly interested in washing up before lunch or hanging out with people from the low end of the gene pool, but He was deeply troubled by the unwashed hearts of the religious leaders He saw around the table.
Still, if I'd lived back then, I don't know if I would have been happy taking Jesus to church when He was a kid. What if He was a lot like my oldest son? Can you picture that? Wrinkled robe. Messy hair. Dirty hands. What if Jesus had been the kind of kid who, no matter how much you cleaned Him up, got to synagogue looking like He hadn’t washed in a week or changed clothes in a month. And, then, you'd see him with the other kids. Messy Jesus standing with all the other nice squeaky-clean kids ready for the Bible lesson.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ."That's our Jesus," Mary whispered to the older woman standing next to her. “He’s the one on the left.”
"Yes, dear, I see. I’m sure He must be a handful. Shame He could not get cleaned up for worship. Maybe you can see to that next time you come."
"But,” Mary tried to explain, “You just don't understand.”
“Cleanliness is next to godliness,” the older woman smiled a knowing smile at Mary.
Mary was growing a little impatient. “I will tell you one thing, if there’s any child, in fact, anybody here this morning who is clean enough to worship, then Jesus….” Mary trailed off, leaving the sentence unfinished. She’d run into this before. No use trying to explain the unexplainable. At least not yet. One day.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .This coming Sunday, many of us will wash up before going to a time of worship where no time will be spent reflecting on moral failures, in word, deed, and though, and confessing our sins in the presence of a holy and all-knowing God as a part of worship. We will spend more time with soap than sorrow. We will clean up what doesn’t really matter and hardly give a second thought to the dirt that does.