Cleanliness Next to Godliness? Part 1

During my teenage years, I hated getting wet. I still do, but at the time, I hated it with a passion. I hated swimming, water parks, playing in the rain; most embarrassingly, I hated showers. You would have thought I was a dog by the way I avoided the tub. The only problem was, as you know, that I live in a very hygiene-conscious culture. Any hint of missing your daily shower such as wearing the same clothes for several consecutive days would act as a people repellant and mark you as an outcast. Needless to say, when I knew I hadn’t showered for a few days, I would avoid getting close to people for fear that they would smell something unpleasant and run from me like the plague.

The people in Biblical times were also concerned about cleanliness. However, their concern was on a deeper scale than whether or not you showered that morning. In those times, there were several ways a person could become unclean. Diseases such as leprosy would mark you as unclean. Touching a dead person would also make you unclean. Even menstruating women were considered unclean. If you were deemed unclean, you were truly treated as an outcast. In other words, you were not to make contact with anyone else because if you touched an unclean person, you would instantly become unclean. Here’s the thing that really gets me; if you were unclean and you appeared in public, you had to walk around shouting, “Unclean! Unclean!” Good grief! That’s like making me walk around school yelling, “I haven’t showered for three days! Stay away from me!”

As I promised before, I am finally returning to that powerful story in Mark 5. Before I begin retelling the story however, I want us to stop for a minute and think about what I had just shared about being unclean in Biblical times. I want you to imagine for a minute that you’re someone who has a disease that makes you unclean. You had to be completely isolated, and if you appeared in public for any reason, you had to broadcast your condition like a neon sign plastered to your forehead. Everyone would know to stay away from you. Parents would herd their children away from you. No one dared to get close enough to talk to you. If that doesn’t drive the spear of rejection and worthlessness deep into a person’s heart, I don’t know what does.

Keeping that in mind, let’s take a look at our story from Mark 5. Remember this is the story about Jairus’ daughter who was raised from the dead. For more on that part of the story, please refer to the post “Why Bother the Teacher Anymore?” Today we’ll turn our focus away from Jairus’ part of the story and take a look at the “interruption” that happened on the way to Jairus’ house. Just to forewarn you, I am going to divide the lessons learned from this part of the story into two posts because there are just truck loads of powerful lessons we can learn from this brief encounter and I don’t want to overwhelm you with all of it all at once. So if you get to the end and wonder, “Where’s the rest of it?” Sit tight, it is coming. Here’s the story beginning in verse 24 of Mark 5. “A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she got worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, ‘If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.’ Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.”

I am going to stop here for today because I want to point out a couple things. Remember what I just said about unclean people? The woman’s condition of bleeding would have made her unclean. So for twelve years she was isolated from the rest of society. When I first read that she had “suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had,” I immediately felt drawn to her. I know what it is like to go from hospital to hospital spending a fortune but “instead of getting better, [I got] worse.” I can imagine the desperation she must be in because just like her condition of bleeding made her unclean and rejected by society, my struggle with suicide has alienated me from many people. My high school sent me away to a therapeutic day school because they didn’t want to be responsible for a suicidal student. Hospitals sent me away to a residential facility because “my needs were greater than their abilities.” Churches sent me away to professionals and told me not to rejoin their small group until I was “more stable.” So I can definitely relate to her desperation in finding a cure so that she might be accepted once again into society.

The second thing I want to point out is that by doing what she did, she violated the law on many accounts. First, she was in public making contact with other people. She didn’t broadcast her condition like she was supposed to. Worst of all, she deliberately touched someone while she was unclean. To me, this not only speaks of her desperation, but also her courage and faith. I believe this is what Jesus was referring to when he said later, “Your faith has healed you.” She didn’t care what kind of trouble she was going to get in; she knew in her heart that Jesus had the power to heal her and she was going to do everything she could to get to him. This makes me ask myself, “Emely, do you believe Jesus has the power to heal you?” Then, when I answer, “Of course I do,” the next question is “How bad do you want it?”

I am going to get gut level honest here. I don’t always know how to answer that last question. You see, I have always been told that the definition of an addiction is something you continue to do despite negative consequences. Well, if you continue to do it even though you’re getting negative results, there must be something positive you’re getting from it. Unless you’re completely crazy, most people will not continue to do something that has absolutely no redeeming aspect to it. For example, alcoholics continue to drink because it helps them forget about their problems momentarily, even though it destroys their relationships and gets them in trouble with the law. I have to admit that as much havoc as depression and suicide have wreaked in my life, there’s a part of me that still cherishes it because of the attention and care that I get from others in response to it. Granted, that attention is almost always short lived and the rejection that follows only serves to send me deeper into the pit. However, that brief period of concern and attention is to me what that brief period of carefree sensation is for the alcoholic. So many times when I ask myself that second question, “How bad do you want healing?” I can’t always honestly say I want it that bad.

Recently however, God has been showing me ways which I can get positive attention that satisfies my cravings more completely than having people constantly worry about me. Furthermore, as I am learning to get filled with his love, my need for others to fill me diminishes. Finally, God has been showing me the ultimate depravity of my addiction. I believe that is one of the reasons why my depression and suicidal tendencies have gotten worse in the last few weeks. While I have no doubt that the woman wanted healing the minute she began having bleeding problems, I believe that as her condition got worse and her resources were emptied out and she ran out of people to turn to, she started to get desperate for healing. This makes me wonder sometimes if God allows things to go from bad to worse so that we would lose all attachment to whatever has bound us and stop at nothing to grab a hold of Jesus and his promises. So maybe our intensified struggles are really God’s merciful way to bring us to where he can say to us, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

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