If you have any expectation of staying clean while cooking (particularly baking, I’ve found), you’re wearing an apron. I personally have a terrible habit of remembering halfway through the recipe that I should probably put mine on. Cooking without something to protect your clothes gets messy– sometimes irreversibly so. I nearly lost one of my favorite cardigans (that I wear very frequently) to pulled pork juices in the crockpot last weekend.
We are trained from a young age to protect ourselves from things that might make us dirty. We put on aprons when cooking, gloves when cleaning the toilet, smocks when painting, old shoes when mowing the lawn. Particularly when something is a chore, we find ways to protect ourselves from being made messy. We don’t want to be unclean.
The Jews of Jesus’ time were much the same way. We need only glance through the books of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy to get a feel for how easily one would be made unclean and the consequences of such a state. It’s hard for me to imagine not being permitted to attend worship once a month because of my monthly cycle (Leviticus 15:19-24). But yet, as Holy Week arrives, I am struck by the extreme gift that Joseph of Arimathea gave by making himself unclean in order to lay Christ’s body to rest, knowing that simply by touching the body of his dead savior, he would be unclean on the Sabbath day.
Joseph’s act is reminiscent of Jesus’ behavior while he was still in active ministry. A woman, bleeding for twelve years (!), is absolutely desperate for healing, so she risks all she has to risk. She reaches out to touch the edge of Jesus’ robe. (Mark 5:25-24) Because she has been bleeding, she has been unclean for just as long. For twelve years, she has not been touched by another person. Just imagine how isolating this would be, to be set apart from everyone for twelve years because you are sick, to know that anyone to touch you would be ceremonially unclean, separated from God and the Temple. You would be isolated from everything and everyone, including God.
So she risks it. She risks reaching out to touch the edge of the robe of the man she believes is her last hope. She risks making him unclean in hopes that maybe she could be made clean. She risks dirtying the most pure, holy, undefiled person to have ever walked on this earth.
And he blesses her for it.
Jesus does not put on rubber gloves, a mask and apron before he reaches out to heal the broken. He walks right into the darkest places and lays hands on the broken and deformed. It is the most sacrificial of loves that lays down its reputation, its well-being, its safety, its lawfulness for the sake of righteous compassion. Jesus lays down his cleanliness for this woman’s well-being, not just that she would be healed, but that she would be loved, that she would have the human connection and that she so desperately needed.
After Jesus’ crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish council that condemned Jesus, but a disciple of Christ, laid aside his social status and reputation and took up the broken, battered and bloody body of his Savior, making himself unclean, knowing there was no time to be purified again before the Sabbath, which would begin at sundown. (John 19:38-42) He chooses love over the law. Dirty, messy love. Joseph laid his Savior in the tomb hewn for himself, surrendering his status in death as well as life. (Matthew 27:59-60)
Joseph didn’t wear an apron. Jesus didn’t wear rubber gloves.
We are called to love with reckless abandon, no matter how messy that love may be. True love is always messy because true love involves loving a human. And humans are messy. We are broken and sinful, unclean by our simple nature. But Jesus loves us at our messiest. He doesn’t wait for us to get cleaned up before he is willing to associate with us. On the contrary, he cleans us up himself, unconcerned with the ways we may make him unclean in the process. After all, he has conquered death itself, the ultimate depth of uncleanliness. His love makes us clean.
And so we are therefore called to love others, to bring the love of the Father to his children, unafraid of the messiness of humanity, but instead offering uninhibited love. No apron, no rubber gloves, no smock. No human sin can make you unclean in the eyes of the Father when the blood of the Son has washed you clean.
So the next time you shy away from offering yourself completely to another person, the next time you hold back from engaging with someone’s emotional or turbulent past and troubles, the next time you avoid the eye of someone that looks different from you or someone you feel isn’t wholesome enough to be in your life, take off your apron. Take off your rubber gloves. Reach out your hand in Christ’s love, knowing that righteousness comes through the sacrificial love of the Lord, poured out on his children on a cross that Friday, two thousand years ago.
By His love we are washed clean.