Via Transformativa: Practical Magic — Magic of Getting Dirty

By: JUBILEE! Minister Candace Chellew-Hodge

There are many things all the Southern Baptist churches of my youth had in common, including pictures of Jesus that portrayed him in sparkling white robes — not a speck of dirt on him. It’s like his holiness was some sort of dirt repellent.

In those pictures, everyone was clean, wearing colorful and freshly pressed robes and sandals that look like they just bought them at the Jerusalem Wal-Mart. All the animals were finely groomed with not a trace of poop or dirt on them either. And, of course, the most unbelievable part of any picture was that any children depicted in it were spotless, as well.

The reality is, if we modern folk could meet the Jesus of history we’d probably insist that he take a shower before entering into our homes or churches. Back in those days nobody had shower gels, antiperspirants or breath mints. People walked in dirt and mud in their scruffy sandals and washed their clothes, shoes and bodies when they could in streams or lakes or in private areas with water drawn from the town well.

The thing is, they would not have consider themselves dirty. This was their culture and dirt and grime were simply part of daily life. But, our modern culture has seen to it that we don’t have to encounter dirt and grime as we go about our business. Our streets are kept clean of debris and dirt, our offices are cleaned by custodians every night and our churches are always scrubbed spotless. These days, you really have to go out of your way to get dirty.

In our “cleanliness is next to godliness” culture, we would find Jesus and his crew to be about as appealing as homeless people in the park whose stink and filth cause us to stay far away or avoid them altogether.

The traditional way to view today’s Jesus story (Luke 19:45-48) is to see our guy driving out the robbers in the temple and clearing it of its dirty and filthy money changers who preyed on the people by making them buy grains, birds and other animals to bring as a sacrifice to cleanse themselves from sin.

But, that’s not what Jesus was up to. Instead, Jesus, this man who made an entire ministry out of crossing cleanliness barriers, was, as Kester Brewin argues in his book Signs of Emergence, “clearing the way for the dirty, giving them free access to the means of forgiveness without having to purchase special money or buy special sacrifices.”

You see, this is how Jesus operated. He regularly crossed the dirt boundaries of his culture by touching the sick, conversing with women of other tribes and faiths, dining with tax collectors, cavorting with whores and touching the dead to make them come back to life.

Jesus understood, at a deep level, the magic of getting dirty. He knew that dirt is life and life is dirt. We come from it, we will return to it, and while we live, we cannot shun anyone or anything as dirty or irredeemable.

Jesus never told anyone who approached him to clean up their act first and then follow him. No, he told the people who saw him clear the way for the dirty to enter that this house — this holy place in which we dwell — is a house of prayer for all people.

That word, “prayer,” by the way, in Hebrew, one of its meanings is a place beside a river where there is an ample supply of water. This place, this morning, is truly a dwelling place for us to all to gather and contemplate and commune with the holy dirt and the divine mud and the sacred river as we celebrate the arrival of this new summer season.

Breathe deeply.

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