A few years back I was visiting a friend when a man in a sparkling white uniform walked out of my friend’s home. When my friend told me that this gentleman was there to repair his washing machine, I was somewhat surprised. After all, I thought, how can anyone repair anything without getting at least a little dirty? I did not mention this to my friend because he was having a crazy day and I did not want to pile on. I assumed that my friend was so distracted by his crazy day that the same thought did not run through his head when this repair guy emerged spotless from his basement. It turns out that I was right, for a few days later my friend mentioned that he had to call another guy to fix the machine since the first one “did not seem to do anything”.
Distorted Portrayals of Christ
If we think about it, most images of Christ before his passion show him in flowing, clean robes which belong in a detergent commercial. Apparently, no artists depicting Christ, thought about painting even one image of him wearing a dirty or messy robe. It is almost as if Jesus wiped the dust off himself at the end of his forty day preparation for his ministry in the desert and proceeded to not get near dirt or grime for three years. We know, of course, that this could not have been the case, for Christ was a whirlwind of compassion and love during his ministry upon this very dusty and dirty world. He did not cure lepers using ten foot poles nor drive out unclean spirits via distant waves of the hand. Every indication and common sense dictate that Christ was a touching person who reached out to those around him. We therefore see that the prevalent portrayals of Christ as some dazzling image of neatness and cleanliness is just so much more antiseptic Christianity. Antiseptic Christianity is the depiction of following Christ, as some would run after the Good Humor man’s ice cream truck full of goodies.
As is often the case, I think that antiseptic Christianity is more about seeking self-comfort than seeking to serve others. After all, heaven forbid that we be presented with a dirty, dusty Christ who looks like he just wrestled in the mud. Such a sight would offend our sense of Our Lord’s purity. Obviously, the take away here is that our sense of Our Lord’s purity is pretty warped if it depends on clean, almost pressed robes. After all, we all know that Christ was sparkling pure on the inside, where it counts, and that his outside was exposed daily to the grind and grime of living in this imperfect world.
The Real Christ
Common sense dictates that the real Christ was a man of action, not reaction. He did not sit back and wait for a mess to clear up before jumping in. Rather, whether that mess was a sinful man, an ostracized woman, or a diseased leper, Jesus was always there to reach out a caring hand and become involved in the fray in a God-like way. The real Jesus did not wait for things to happen but, rather, clearly made them happen. The real Christ taught us that being clean on the outside does not necessarily have anything to do with being clean on the inside. The real Christ is as much the fallen Christ beneath the cross as the transfigured or triumphant Lord.
We Cannot Follow Christ Half Way
We all know the verses regarding how Christ will spit out the lukewarm follower ( Rev. 3:15-16) and how people tend to accommodate truth to fit their taste by twisting it around ( 2 Tim 4:3). We are surely living in a lukewarm time steeped in rationalization and euphemism which pretends to define reality according to the parameters of adjustable borders. What is right or appropriate changes according to whim and increasingly does not confer with God’s counsel and guidance. Folks increasingly prefer to be weekend Christians who prefer to measure their dedication to their faith by how often they comfortably did the right thing.
Our Lord did not cure people half way, forgive half of people’s sins, or ask listeners to follow God half way. He did not and does not love half the time, nor does he forgive half the time we sincerely seek his forgiveness in reconciliation. Following Christ means following all in, even if that in is dusty, greasy, grimy, dirty, messy, or uncomfortable. In fact, faith and devotion precisely means jumping all in when one would rather not. We cannot truly take up our cross and follow Christ without being willing to fall along the way as he did.
True Christianity is about Embracing, Engaging, and Helping
The true Christian reaches out to touch people without paying attention to getting dirty through the effort. We are called to meet people where they are without arming ourselves with self-obsession, arrogance, insensitivity, or impatience. Only by getting ourselves dusty in the work of spreading Christ’s example and God’s word do we fulfill our mission from God.
The Ultimate Paradox
We have been told that whoever saves his life for his own sake will lose it, but whoever loses his life for the sake of Christ will save it ( Mt 16:25). This illustrates the ultimate paradox that those who hold back will lose what they have, but those who offer all they have will gain more than what they started with. All of this is to say that we can no more hold back on Christ than we can stop ourselves in midair after jumping into a pool.
Accept that the world is a messy place and that we, as Christians, are called to engage this messy place in the service of God. Realize that by engaging this messy place we will, to some degree, get messy ourselves in that service of God. Therefore, smile when serving Our Lord has left you battered, ridiculed, mocked, or criticized. Rejoice when serving the Lord has reduced you in the eyes of imperfect and ignorant men. Lastly, did not worry about the uniforms you have dirtied serving the perfection and purity of God, for such dirty uniforms only mean that you are truly serving and following a Lord who was too concerned with loving and serving others to worry about a few stains on his robe.