Traditional religion has always been about separating the sacred from the profane, the clean from the unclean. This of course creates very exclusionary systems where only the elite are found worthy. Take 1st Century Palestine for example: only Israelite men, who ate the right thing, hasn’t touched anything dead, without a skin infection, and without any kind of discharge from his penis could enter into the temple proper. Women and gentiles could only go to designated areas.
Jesus came to bring an end to that system once and for all.
Think about it, there was an entire legal system for controlling forgiveness with an entire class of people in charge of maintaining it, and this guy John just goes out to the river and begins baptizing for the forgiveness of sins. He is in effect saying that God is as accessible as water. How revolutionary is that? He undercut the entire sacrificial system just like that. No wonder the scribes and the priests went out to see what he was doing.
Jesus outdoes John. As Jesus leaves the temple, His disciples begin to marvel at it. Jesus chastises them and says this whole thing is going down. He isn’t just be prophetic about the Romans pulling down the building, He is talking about the whole system. Everything in Jerusalem was based on the temple. 90% of the economy was tied up in providing, caring for, and carrying off the animals used in the daily sacrifices. The scribes and priests made up most of the upper class and they depended on the temple system for their lively hood. And Jesus wants to tear all that down?
Not only that, He forgives people right were they are. He goes to the unclean and does the unthinkable, He touches them. To touch someone unclean was to become unclean yourself. He ate with sinners. He fed the poor and the wretched. He went to the outcast and the marginalized of society. The gospel was preached to those on the bottom of society, not to the ruling class or the priests, but the people on the streets and in the gutters. This was unheard of back then.
It’s the cross that is most subversive. Have you ever looked at a crucifix and wondered at it? It is an image of God being killed. St. Paul calls this a wisdom not of this world, and it isn’t, simply because it turns everything on its head. In seeming to lose, God wins.
This is the subversive wisdom of God. It goes against everything worldly convention wisdom would ever teach us. We don’t have to be on top of society to be special; we can be on the bottom and God will still love us. We don’t have to be successful, God loves us in our failures. He says that when we are weak, we are our strongest. In Him the last is the first. For in Him we are all made one, the Jew and the Greek, the free and the slave, the male and the female, all are one.
In Him no one is excluded.
The world hasn’t learned that lesson yet. Even the Christians still practice the same old games of ancient religion. We have our purity codes, our belief systems, our so-called morality. Aren’t these just more of the same? Ways to exclude the “unclean?”
Let me leave you with this question: who are we to call unclean what God has declared clean?