In the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney, we learn about the “cheese touch”. It is his version of elementary school’s atomic cooties – nothing could be worse, and from the perspective of the social caste system of middle school, the cheese touch makes one unclean and therefore untouchable. In a true display of mercy and grace, Greg rescues his friend Rowley from social excommunication by taking the blame for eating the cheese.
The religious culture of Jesus’ day had taken the law, which was meant to protect people and help them connect with God in covenant relationship, and transformed it into a tool to separate, reject, and oppress people, to claim power over them. They were like the kids in middle school who decide who is in and who is out, who is cool and who is a nerd, who is acceptable, and who is untouchable.
Jesus comes remove those divisions – 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. (Ephesians 2)
Remember the 12 that Jesus called included a radical right Matthew, the tax collector, friend of big business, who had aligned himself with the Romans, and radical leftists, including Simon the Zealot, who wanted to reclaim their land by force. It would have been like putting the KKK and the Black Panthers together, or Fred Phelps and the folks from Westboro Baptist Church together with openly gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson. Do you remember after hurricane Sandy how New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was spending so much time with President Obama, and applauding his responsiveness to the crisis – the same Chris Christie who had lambasted the president during the Republican Convention in the summer of 2012?
Breaking down the dividing wall between clean and unclean. From God’s point of view, we are all either unclean, or all clean. Paul says “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” (RM3:23). Then later we read “As in Adam all have died, so in Christ all are made alive,” (1COR15:22) and “Christ died for all, therefore all have died.” (1PETER3:18) Both seem to be true – clean and unclean, all of us.
Those who are in Christ are new creations because we have a new awareness of God’s redeeming grace. That doesn’t mean that we are the only ones who will receive it. God’s grace is free for all. The issue is just one of awareness. Jesus comes to offer this awareness and experience of grace to all, not only those whom we deem acceptable or worthy of receiving it.
Whether it is our genetic disposition, sin dwelling in us, or the influence of generations of human culture, we want to draw lines and build walls where God wants to draw circles and build bridges. In Revelation 21:5 we hear “The one sitting on the throne says, ‘Behold, I make all things new.'” (REV21:5) As Christians we are meant to demonstrate this newness, to manifest the presence of God and the coming kingdom, to be salt and light (MT5), and wells of living water (JN4), and the first fruits (James1:8). We are blessed to be a blessing, so that in and through us all the world will come to understand that they are blessed by God (GAL3:8).
In Christ, and through him in the church, Clean and Unclean are made one – we are redeemed by the Mercy of God demonstrated in the Crucifixion of Jesus May we as church go forward into the world as a people who do not put barriers where God has put bridges.
Outline of Mark 3:
Mark gives us four stories that are about crossing barriers between clean and unclean.
Vs 1-6 – Jesus is in the synagogue and heals a man on the Sabbath. The man was considered unclean, and healing on the Sabbath was viewed as unclean (a violation of the law) by the Pharisees.
Vs 7-12 – Jesus engages people who have “unclean spirits” – they are tormented and troubled by something, but it is the judgment and perception of the community that declares them unclean. Again, Jesus removes these barriers and offers restoration.
Vs 13-19 – Jesus calls and appoints the 12 apostles, who had numerous divisions and barriers between them, and made them brothers.
Vs 20-30 – People began saying that Jesus had become unclean – that he was crazy, and even that he was the lord of the unclean. Jesus’ argument is an interesting one – he does not refute them, but using logic states that if they are correct, then that would still be a good thing because he is tearing down the house of uncleanness.
Vs 31-34 – Jesus redefines the ultimate social division – FAMILY. Your social standing, your career, your place in religious life, whom you could marry and where you would live, all were determined by family relationships. People were trapped, in bondage to those constraints, whatever they were. Jesus removes that final barrier by redefining his own family as those who do the will of their common Father. The implication is that the work Jesus is doing, and has commissioned his disciples to do, is that which makes one family.