I just finished detailing the exterior and interior of my car after two hours of grueling work. I guess you could say I used to be an enthusiast, where I would clean my car every two weeks, undergo the tedious task of carefully applying car wax, grow frustrated, and then carelessly buff off the wax to create an impeccable shine. Well, not so much impeccable. But the car did look shiny.
Sadly, the only motivating factor in this week's edition of Clean My Car was the fact that I'm picking up the president of our organization tomorrow from the airport and I felt ashamed for having such a disgustingly dirty car.
Lately, I've been thinking about the power of cleaning. It seems like a waste of time to scrub away the dirt and detritus from the surface layers, only to have those layers magically reappear within the span of weeks. It seems terribly inefficient.
I used to not wear deodorant in high school.
I'm not sure why. I think it began with the fact that I really had no idea that people were supposed to wear deodorant. This was something my father did not inform me about when I was growing up, along with the birds and the bees, and also how to use tools. This progressed onto the stage where I really didn't care if I took showers, and eventually I was a walking pandemic.
After a few complaints and some instruction on deodorant, I realized that, even though it seemed like a terrible waste of time, cleaning myself was more of a necessity than a luxury. More than anything, the way I present myself to people, odors notwithstanding, was the way I viewed myself, in many ways. And now I dutifully paint on layers of deodorant every day – yet I still haven't had a date in years.
Redemption was the same for me. I used to wonder why I would have to come before God as a repentant sinner every week on Sundays when it was quite obvious that I would end up sinning again. It just seemed to make more sense to let a lot of sins accumulate over time until I figured it was time. That time usually came during church retreats, when the speaker would boom the importance of redeeming ourselves before God, and then our group would collectively sob and feel clean again.
The tough thing, the lesson that I didn't learn early on, is that being clean is immensely important in spirituality. The word 'clean' appears in Leviticus at least 55 times. Lepers throw themselves before Jesus, asking them to make them clean. Jesus tells people to wash themselves, and those people find themselves miraculously healed.
I'm not saying that washing ourselves or maintaining a clean lifestyle will cure our diseases. Well, not all our diseases.
It's a metaphor that God is tracing out for us, where He's telling us that to receive grace, we must first admit that our souls are dirty. It makes perfect sense, really. You don't ask someone to clean your car if you think it's immaculately clean – even if the car is disgustingly dirty. No, rather, what He wants us for us to admit that our souls are not clean, so that He can do the work of cleaning it for us. And Jesus illustrates the point as well when he's out curing the populace of lepers, who all openly admit that they are diseased. Had those lepers approached Jesus and said, “I don't really need to be healed, I'm sure my ear will reattach itself somehow,” I doubt Jesus would have cured them. I doubt Jesus would have even committed to having a conversation with them.
On the flip side, the Pharisees refused to admit that their souls were dirty, and that's probably why Jesus disliked them so much. They believed that their maintenance of the rituals that had been passed down for so long, that to avoid touching a corpse or cleaning their hands a certain number of times a day had somehow made them exempt from the power of sin. And the truth, which Jesus knew, is that it didn't.
Bottom line: we can't be cleaned until we admit we're dirty. And when we do admit we're dirty, we find our souls, heavy with the soil of sin, wiped clean.