We are a story, a living story, if we are anything, and this is one reason, maybe the best, why stories will never go out of fashion.
In my own family, much of our time together revolves around stories. We read them every night and often the children read more on their beds, flashlights in hand, before sleep, then waking the next morning to, on the long school run, often listen to more stories.
In the best of these stories, characters are as alive as you or me or the sorry soul walking down the street. We share in their joys, and, of course, more so, their troubles. In the good stories, the ones we can’t help but fall into, we’re never left the same.
Into this now comes Christmas. So, this Christmas season, the Daily Dad will share from The Story.
I am among the dozens of Canadian writers who have contributed to The Story, which is now in its 80th week of online postings. Through December, for Christmas, I’ll share five of my contributions, some reflections from the books of Matthew and Mark.
Some are among the stories read in my own family at one time or another. Others are not. Each shares a brief story or passage from Scripture, then my reflection, then, at end, a short reader response.
I hope you enjoy.
Today’s selection, here, or below, is #1 of 5.
25You Pharisees and teachers are show-offs, and you’re in for trouble! You wash the outside of your cups and dishes, while inside there is nothing but greed and selfishness.26You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of a cup, and then the outside will also be clean.
27You Pharisees and teachers are in for trouble! You’re nothing but show-offs. You’re like tombs that have been whitewashed. On the outside they are beautiful, but inside they are full of bones and filth.28That’s what you are like. Outside you look good, but inside you are evil and only pretend to be good.
29You Pharisees and teachers are nothing but show-offs, and you’re in for trouble! You build monuments for the prophets and decorate the tombs of good people.30And you claim that you would not have taken part with your ancestors in killing the prophets.31But you prove that you really are the relatives of the ones who killed the prophets.32So keep on doing everything they did.33You are nothing but snakes and the children of snakes! How can you escape going to hell?
34I will send prophets and wise people and experts in the Law of Moses to you. But you will kill them or nail them to a cross or beat them in your meeting places or chase them from town to town.35That’s why you will be held guilty for the murder of every good person, beginning with the good man Abel. This also includes Barachiah’s son Zechariah, the man you murdered between the temple and the altar.36I can promise that you people living today will be punished for all these things!
It was 1791 when in one his sermons John Wesley said “Slovenliness is no part of religion. And cleanliness is indeed next to godliness.”
It’s the first recorded use of the proverb as we phrase it today, but the “cleanliness is next to godliness” theme is actually an ancient Hebrew one that integrates personal hygiene with spiritual health to acknowledge a God who is interested in us as holistic beings.
The New Testament Pharisees thought they knew something about being clean because they practiced ceremonial washing. If ancient Jews touched something unclean they needed to then perform an elaborate cleansing with animal sacrifices. In fact, if they touched a dead body or grave and didn’t wash with water containing the ashes of a sacrificed bull, they could be thrown out of the community.
This is where the white-washing of tombs comes in. In Jesus’ time, the whitewash on a tomb was both a warning of a contaminated area and a way to make the area appear more pleasant, even though what was inside was dead and rotting.
Jesus pulled no punches when he said this is just what the Pharisees were like, that through both sins of commission and sins of omission they had lost touch with what’s important to God – justice and mercy. They were actually stained with more than they ever imagined, and they needed a cleansing that would go much deeper than any religious ceremony could ever accomplish.
They needed to hear this hard news so that they could be open to the good news that Jesus was alluding to, that he himself would be the sacrifice to cleanse them and bring them back into God’s camp.
It’s the same bad news-good news scenario that any of us also face today. How will any of us respond?
Loving Heavenly Father: I thank you that you care about me holistically, that you care for all of me, and that you care enough to cleanse the contaminated areas of my inmost being through the sacrifice of your loving son, the Lord Jesus.