Who feels like they’ve washed their hands more in the last six months than the last 6 years combined? Probably an exaggeration—still, between COVID-19 and a newborn, disinfecting groceries and dirty diapers, daily wiping surfaces and soaked spit rags, my hands have been chapped and red for a few months now. With all the washing and disinfecting, I’ve been pondering what makes something clean or dirty. Tell me if y’all can relate . . . or if I’m just crazy and need to study germs more! I wipe a door handle with a bleach rag, then I grab the door handle to wipe the one on the other side . . . now do I need to wipe the first handle again? What if I washed my hands, but then turned on the light before wiping the switch? It’s like that funny video that went around where the guy has to disinfect his whole environment before washing his hands.
And then I wonder—is my ratio of bleach and soap and water on the rag right? Is my hand soap strong enough? If I wipe my baby’s bottom with baby wipes, could I also use those same type of wipes to wipe down groceries? Or are only Chlorox wipes enough? When is the dirty chain broken? When does a cleaning agent come into enough contact with dirtiness that it no longer cleanses?
Now, get ready for the turn. It’s a little cheesy, but it made me think. Some of you already know where this is going. Spiritual cleansing works this way too. In Christian circles and in the Bible, the language of cleansing is used to describe how God takes away our sin. Our sin in Scripture is at times compared to dirtiness, and at times compared to illness, infection—and it is the cleansing of Jesus that removes that.
The story of the bleeding woman is one of my favorites. This story comes right in the middle of the story of Jairus in the book of Mark—which is another favorite—you can read why here. the story of the bleeding woman, a woman approaches Jesus secretly who has suffered for twelve years with a bleeding illness. She has visited doctors, tried all kinds of remedies, spent all her money and ended up even more sick—and broke!—than at the start. She’s hopeless . . . except for a tiny possibility that maybe this Healer she’s heard about can make her well.
She’s apparently afraid to approach Him openly—maybe because her illness would have made her “unclean” in Jewish culture, maybe because she’s a woman, maybe because it just felt shameful and embarrassing. According to Jewish law, she should have secluded herself . . . because everyone she bumped into in her effort to get close to Jesus would have been rendered unclean by contact with her (Leviticus 15:19-30). Our current concerns about the contagion level of COVID might give us a glimpse of what people felt interacting with this woman. In my description above, her condition is the ultimate dirty rag . . . literally everything she touches gets dirty. She is desperate, though, and risks it. She weaves her way through the crowd, reaches out, touches his clothes.
Then an amazing thing happened. This woman’s touch did not defile Jesus. In fact, at the moment of contact with Him, she was healed! “And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease” (Mark 4:29). His power of healing and cleansing superseded her contagious uncleanliness. Jesus’ goodness wasn’t threatened by her sin or her sickness. She posed no risk to Him; rather, proximity to Him would eradicate “immediately” the disease that had held her captive.
This story reminds me that my sin is like the woman’s sickness, and like germs on a rag. Even the slightest little bit can contaminate my whole self. “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” (James 2:10). Recently, God has been exposing us as a couple to our blindness in the area of racial injustice. We have more to learn than we could have ever imagined—and as we go along, we’re forced to face our sinful thoughts and actions. We’ve got a lot of listening, learning and repenting to do. Only the grace of a Savior who will never change, never lose even a smidge of His beauty and glory and love, no matter what untapped depths of ugliness we bring to him, can walk us through a journey like this. Hopefully more on this topic later—but I’d like to listen a lot more first.
At the same time, the story reminds me that Jesus—His life, death, resurrection, and presence in my life, are un-contaminable . . . I have no sin too ugly for Him, no struggle He can’t transform. The reality of His presence in my life makes me clean in His eyes, and makes me daily more clean and healthy as I surrender more of my life to Him. By His grace alone, then, I can carry that cleansing, healing Gospel into the heart of disease and lostness and watch Him transform the world, starting with myself and, I pray, touching those around me.