Life in the Spirit is like cleaning. Clean the inside of the cup, not just the outside you think people can see — stuff a cloth way down in that spiritual “cup” and scrub out that dried crud on the bottom. Don’t do it to because you must be perfectly spotless to be presentable (God help you!). Do it to participate in the cleansing that is freeing us from what gums us up. Cleaning is a big thing to us Jesus-followers. We get good at it. Today is a good day to roll up our sleeves.
Jesus demanded that self-appointed spiritual authorities that opposed him get some cleaning skills even though they thought they were already clean enough.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Matthew 23:25-26
For a great dramatization of this part of the Bible, check out a clip from the famous movie, Jesus of Nazareth. (And yes, I know putting a blue-eyed Jesus in this post is ironic).
My parents were big on cleaning, so I am kind of picky about it. I am picky mostly because they were picky about how well I cleaned for them — not because I find some moral purpose in having things spotless! One of my specialties among the family housekeeping chores became cleaning floors. My father, the Navy man who rose to the rank of bosun’s mate, was a passionate trainer of floor cleaners. For him, the use of brooms, even mops was purely preliminary to swabbing the deck. No floor was clean until one got down on his hands and knees and scrubbed. If brushes (down to toothbrushes) were necessary, they should be at hand.
The big lesson in his floor-cleaning class — the thing that separated real cleaners from pretenders, was the art of rinsing. Here is his secret: Even if one doesn’t use soap, the goal is to extract every bit of soapy/dirty water off the floor — get it ALL into the bucket and out the door. (And don’t spill it on the back porch or your mom will slip on it when she gets back from the hairdresser). Do not, under threat of unpredictable repercussions, just spread that dirt around with your dirty mop until there is an even layer of film that makes it look like the floor is clean. If your dad is running around in his socks and undies (which he will be!) the evidence of your sloth will quickly be discovered on the bottom of his socks.
Floor cleaning may be a subject for me and my therapist. Thorough spiritual cleaning is a good subject for me and Jesus. It is tempting to just sweep the “dirt” here and there in our lives and never get it into the dust pan and out the door. It is tempting to water down our sin and still leave it like a film that no one is willing to call dirty. It is challenging to give the floor of our hearts a good scrub, dump the bucket far outside our spiritual house and be ready for living water.
Our relationships, our leadership, our societal obligations often show the effects of random sweeping. We spread more toxic dust with our wifty attempts to appear tidy than we accomplish cleaning, most of the time. It is very challenging to get down on our knees and inspect the floor of our community for the layers of waxy build-up and grime that we have started to think is the actual color of the floor.
I hope my metaphor is helping you out. Along with all the personal and communal dirt we should stop spreading around, we should all get out our dustpans and get started on the mess building up around us. The national holiday honoring Martin Luther King is a great day to clean something. I think today should be called “national racism day” or something more descriptive of the dirt on our collective floor. Hordes of people will be out mopping but the sinful grime is likely to be there again next year. The whole country keeps sweeping that sin around instead of throwing it out.
Racism is not just the sin of being mean and depriving people of their rights, as wicked as that is. It is the sin of losing sight of what a clean floor looks like. Behind racism is the sin of imagination-deficit. That’s the sin that makes us blind to what we can do to make a difference, like making a friend with someone who is not immediately likely to be our friend, like letting our anger about societal lies and injustice boil over, like Jesus told certain Pharisees the truth.
I know you have heard this before. But I don’t know why Jesus is the only one who seems to notice his socks are dirty. Or maybe you do notice, but Jesus is still the one down on his knees rinsing.