Jesus, hope of the hopeless,
give us abundant confidence in you
that we may find comfort at all times,
relief from our burdens,
and healing where it is your will;
until that day when we see you face to face,
and know you as you are for ever and ever. Amen.
2 Corinthians 8.7–15
Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ — Jesus, Matthew 9.13b
[H]ow are we to draw the boundaries of exclusion and inclusion in the life of the church? Sacrifice—the purity impulse—marks off a zone of holiness, admitting the ‘clean’ and expelling the ‘unclean’. Mercy, by contrast, crosses those purity boundaries. Mercy blurs the distinction, bringing clean and unclean into contact. Thus the tension. One impulse—holiness and purity—erects boundaries, while the other impulse—mercy and hospitality—crosses and ignores those boundaries. — Richard Beck, Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality, Kindle edition, p.2
I want to talk today about things that are ‘clean’ and those that are ‘unclean’.
It’s important to know about if we are going to really hear this Gospel passage.
Years ago, I was working on a Sunday morning in the Casualty area of a hospital when a man came in. He’d gone on a scout camp with his son as an interested dad. He’d picked some mushrooms to fry up for Sunday breakfast. No one else wanted any, so he scoffed the lot.
But they were ‘magic’ mushrooms and he was hallucinating madly, seeing frightening things that weren’t there.
It took him about 36 hours to fully recover.
Some mushroomy-looking things are ok to eat. In biblical language, they are ‘clean’. Other mushroomy-looking things are ‘unclean’. You’ve got to know the difference if you’re going to pick your own.
We read about unclean foods in the bible, like pork, and we wonder why it should be so. (It’s about pigs having a divided hoof but not chewing the cud, but you might still wonder if that’s a good enough reason.)
We have unclean foods too. If I invited you to my place for a succulent roast horse dinner with all the trimmings, would you come or would you be busy that night? We don’t eat horses, but they do in some European countries like Italy and the Netherlands.
We don’t use the word ‘unclean’, but for us the horse is ‘unclean’. Why? It just is. (I could say that nothing could make me eat horseflesh, but my mum tells me she ate it in England during the Second World War.)
So some things are clean all the time, others are unclean all the time. But we’d probably eat some unclean things in an extreme situation.
Now, there are things that are only unclean in certain situations. Hang on, the next bit is a little gross.