Wednesday, November 01, 2006
There are two sets of lectionary readings for today, one for the Daily Lectionary and one for All Saints Day. Interestingly, Jesus is talking about graves in one of them and standing at a grave in another.
In the DL reading, Luke 11:37-52, Jesus is at yet another meal (Luke! You are a boy after my own heart. Lots of eating/ radical table fellowship in your gospel, and I think that's as it should be). Unfortunately, our man is not washing up before the meal, an omission that would get him fired from McDonald's. But to the Pharisees' amazement he replies,
"Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you." Luke 11:39-41
Jesus is using his poor personal hygiene to teach a rich, rich lesson: stop paying so much attention to externals and start looking inward my friends. That is where the real pollution, the real filth lies. And of course he's right. But can we please wash our hands anyway?
Then Jesus goes on to compare the Pharisees to "unmarked graves" that people walk on wihtout knowing it. The folks who have set themselves up as arbiters of what is clean and what is not are now like one of the most unclean things in the ancient Jewish world: the place where the dead are buried, a place to be avoided at all costs for the uncleanness that will cling to the one who comes in contact.
This ancient understanding of cleanness and uncleanness is at the heart of what Marcus Borg for one thinks is a main thrust of Jesus' critique and therefore his ministry. Borg (in Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time) makes the case that the purity code, however it developed, became something that was the ultimate weapon to keep in place a stratified society: the poor were mostly unclean because they were stuck with the jobs that the elites wouldn't do, like, for example, dealing with the dead and digging and tending graves. Women were unclean, because their bodies were permeable (what with all the discharges, etc.).
Jesus is challenging this. Jesus is saying, "Uncleanness is a state of the heart. Get over it."
In the All Saints gospel (John 11:32-44), Jesus is actually at a grave: he is weeping at the tomb of Lazarus, described in this gospel as "the one whom Jesus loved." (So, is he the beloved disciple, and therefore, possibly the author?) He calls Lazarus from the tomb, telling his friends, "Unbind him and let him go."
Years ago I heard a wonderful ordination sermon based on this passage, the gist of which is: that is our calling, to unbind and let go. That is what Jesus is doing, I think, in challenging the purity codes that get to call the shots of who's in and who's out. This is, in the words of that sermon, our "unbinding obligation."
The earth is the Lord's, and all that is in it: the living and the dead, the table and the grave. We are challenged by Jesus to be a part of making all one.