Cleanliness and godliness

His host was amazed to see that [Jesus] sat down to eat without first performing the ceremonial washing required by Jewish custom. Then the Lord said to him, “You Pharisees are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are still filthy—full of greed and wickedness! Fools! Didn’t God make the inside as well as the outside?” —Luke 11:38-40, NLT

You get the impression that Jesus wasn’t the sort of dinner guest who kept the crowd howling over the latest Philistine jokes while scarfing down hors d’oeuvres.

A neighbor came to the door last week to borrow dental floss. I can remember my mother going next door to borrow a couple of eggs, but floss? The times they are a-changin’.

My wife, a kind and generous soul, went to my medicine cabinet and cheerfully offered our friend my last spool of floss.

I brush my teeth faithfully. I use an ergonomically designed tooth brush, non-motorized, but engineered by top designers. It’s a little known fact that your best toothbrush engineers can command a six-figure income. Lots of competition. Big profits ride on the latest technology. America is more serious about fighting tooth-decay than terrorism.

Not only do I use a top-rated toothbrush, I smother it in a generous gob of a toothpaste approved by the American Dental Association.

But no matter how effectively I brush, I cannot remove every single food particle from every crevice and recess without my trusty floss. It’s been a week since my floss disappeared, and I can feel my teeth decaying day by flossless day.

My country is a world leader in hygiene, and boy does that make me proud! We have our anti-bacterial soaps and herbal shampoos, our deep-cleansing creams and moisturizing oils, our whitening toothpastes and invisible anti-perspirants. Through the wonders of modern chemistry and Yankee ingenuity, we can run the workaday marathon without breaking a sweat or emitting the faintest whiff of an offensive aroma.

It’s a great time to be alive!

Given our cultural phobias about dirt, bodily odors and germs, and our preconceived notions about the Diety, is it just me or does it seem incongruous to imagine the Son of God sitting down to eat without first washing his hands? When you picture Jesus, do you ever imagine dirty, cracked fingernails? Greasy hair? Body odor? Bad breath?

It seems sacrilegious to even suggest such things, doesn’t it?

Jesus was not your typical holy man. He touched the untouchables. He befriended the friendless. He associated with outcasts. He did not hesitate to become filthy and sweaty and grungy in the dogged pursuit of God’s calling.

The Christianity of Christ is a topsy-turvy thing. According to Jesus, the Lord of Heaven has no use for holy pantomime. The Holy God is no fan of religious theater. Jesus insulted the Pharisees—called them fools—because they were too caught up in their skin-deep spirituality to hear God calling them to a holistic, transformational walk of faith. Jesus challenged his followers to reject gamesmanship, to put aside hypocrisy and to pursue an inner and actual holiness that comes from a pure heart, pure motives and pure thinking.

According to Jesus, the sort of cleanliness that God desires is inside out and upside down.

…since we have a great High Priest set over the household of God, let us draw near with true hearts and fullest confidence, knowing that our inmost souls have been purified by the sprinkling of his blood just as our bodies are cleansed by the washing of clean water. —Hebrews 10:21,22, JB Phillips

He has purified our hearts by the sprinkling of his blood, and that has made us clean. The essence of godliness is not about outward appearances—it’s all about a clean heart.

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  1. In many societies cleanliness is the essential social necessity, besides being a health necessity. But it may not necessarily be what you actually think, cleanliness in some societies does not mean all the time, a cleanly washed body, nice proper hair, great scent or wearing a nice perfume. In some African tribes, natural scent under arms is considered erotic attributes and most feminine. In some Southeast Asian native tribes, no soap is used because it takes away natural scent, in India, men courting women often thrive for her natural scent. There are many variant to cleanliness as for religious cleanliness I won’t extend.

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