A Bad Rap

The Pharisees kinda got a bad rap in the New Testament. I’m just beginning to see this. Jesus really took them to task for their lifestyle.

Think about his parable about the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37). In the story, a man walking down a road gets attacked by robbers. He is striped of everything and left bleeding on the ground. Two Jewish religious leaders walk past and don’t bother to do anything. A third man, a Samaritan, a person of a lower social order, shunned and not one of God’s elite, is the one who bends down, lends aid, soothes the wounds, and provides for the injured man’s health and safety. At the end of his parable, Jesus asks who was the neighbor to the man in need.

Oh, oh! I know, I know! The man, the Samaritan, who came to the aid. Those other guys… what a bunch of dirt bags. I can’t believe they didn’t stop.

But I’m reading Leviticus right now and I think I get it. This book in the Old Testament outlines all the rules for living holy and lives set apart, lives worthy of the sovereign God who has chosen the Israel nation to be his people. As his people, as God’s chosen, there are rules to follow. We know the 10 Commandments and those are lovely. But Leviticus gets into the nitty-gritty with rules on all kinds of stuff from sexual practices (18: 1-30) to mold removal (14:33-57) to skin disease (14: 1-32) to a total listing of what sacrifice to make and when and how (Chapters 1-8). There’s a huge emphasis on what is clean and what is unclean and actually not knowing what is unclean is not an excuse. But it is costly. Goats and bulls and rams and birds (in varying combinations) must be sacrificed in order to be made clean again.

To the listeners surrounding Jesus as he told his parable, the acts and attitudes of the priests and religious leaders who didn’t stop seemed perfectly natural. The beaten and robbed man, bathed in his own blood, was unclean. Touching him would have made them unclean. Sacrifices would have to be made, things and bodies would need to be washed. It wasn’t as if the Pharisees didn’t see the beaten man. No, they saw him and knew the cost to themselves. Offering help would be timely and costly.

But getting into someone else’s mess is always timely and costly. And that is Jesus getting radical.

Right? The Jews who heard this thought, “Hey! I’m following the rules God laid out. God gave these rules to Moses. Aaron lost two sons because they burned the wrong fire (Leviticus 10:1-7) and for crying out loud I don’t want that to happen to me!” Justified to walk past the mess, justified by the law. And here comes this guy claiming to have the inside scoop from God himself? And he’s saying that everyone is my neighbor and he’s working on Sunday and he’s eating with sinners and he’s saying that that whole unclean business is …well… wrong?

I get why Jesus was a threat. Because maybe the law had become the religion, not the worship of God, not the seeking of God. And maybe the law was getting in the way of people being people together.

Jesus was in the messy. Remember the story of the woman who had been bleeding for years? (Mark 5: 25-33) Here’s a woman who has been bleeding for 12 years. As if the inconvenience of it wasn’t enough, the pain wasn’t acute enough, she was also considered ceremonially unclean. Anyone who touched her was made unclean. She couldn’t go anywhere or do anything without making people unclean, according to the laws laid out in Leviticus. But she reaches out to touch Jesus, to grab his robe, because if she could just get a finger on him…. He knew her mess. But she believed and reached and having faith in him healed her. Clean again.

Jesus was in the mess. And what a wide wonderful mess it is.

Glennon over at Momastery had this to say this week:

Listen. During the past two years, I’ve met a lot of people who ARE following their dreams and serving and a lot of people who are NOT – because they are waiting till things get better or different first.
Here is the thing that the two groups have in common: NO ONE REALLY KNOWS WHAT SHE’S DOING. None of the people in either of the two groups. The people who are running the world and the people who are sitting life out are exactly the same. They are all messy, complicated, confused people who are unsure of what to do next. They all have messy relationships and insecurities and anger and blind spots. They are ALL AFRAID.
Here is the difference between the two groups: The Dream Followers and Servers believe that it’s okay to be messy and complicated and afraid and show up anyway. The second group believes that folks who show up have to be fabulous and perfect. So they’re waiting to get perfect. They are spending their lives IMPROVING instead of just showing up as they are. They are waiting till they’re “ready.” And the thing is that they will be waiting forever and ever, amen. Because all the good and all the beautiful in the world is created by people who show up before they’re ready.

And I wonder which category I fit under here. Am I really not that far off from the Pharisees because it is just easier, less timely and less costly, to cross to the other side of the road, to avoid other people’s messes? Goodness knows I have enough of my own mess right now.

Wanna see my mess? It looks like boxes stacked to the ceiling, meals prepared in a trailer out back, snotty noses and fevers, workmen trying to break through an old foundation under the house, piles, and I mean mountainous piles, of laundry wait for my attention, a daughter who is struggling with what it means to be popular and is she popular and does it really matter if she is and darn her braces hurt too. Wanna see more? Didn’t think so.

It’s timely and costly to go further.

But Jesus threw down the gauntlet. He applauded the man who got down in the mess, who put aside his own mess, his own plans, his own timing, and said, “Here, let me help you in your mess.”

That’s radical living. That’s abundant living. That’s taking God’s grace and sharing it.

A friend came over last night with his three sons to work on their Pinewood Derby cars. He wasn’t aware of our mess until he saw me flapping floor mats out the door of the trailer like a scene from Beverly Hillbillies. As we chatted about it all, I heard myself say, “Yah, it’s a mess in there. But the world is messy, so whatcha gonna do?”

Whatcha gonna do? Wait for the mess to clear? Preaching to myself here. Preaching to myself.

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