“I heard you did stand up comedy.” Steve started, as he finished shaking my hand in the church lobby.
“Yeah I did” I replied. “It was a blast”.
The man with whom I was speaking, Steve Daugherty, is the teaching pastor at my church – but not just that – he is also one of the most talented communicators I know, and brilliantly funny to boot. Accordingly, we dove into a great discussion about the various intricacies of doing comedy, how to understand the audience one is speaking to, and the subtle nuances of communication that are so detailed yet so integral to creating humor.
As our conversation continued, I mentioned to Steve that I chose to perform on the clean open mic night because I think it takes a lot more talent to come up with clean humor. Steve paused for a second in thoughtful contemplation and then asked:
“What does ‘clean’ even mean?”
He then went on to explain how he doesn’t like that designation because it immediately creates an “us and them” mentality – there are those who are clean (which we typically ascribe as believers) and then those who are unclean (which we typically ascribe as unbelievers). He then went on to explain how he likes tearing down this barrier and when he has gone to do stand up comedy he would go on the “dirty” open mic nights and then as his opening line say he’s a pastor. He then described some of the jokes he could make with that and how afterwards it created this amazing opportunity to talk with the other comics because he showed them that he wasn’t afraid to come meet them in a space marked “dirty”; to meet them in space typically designated as too “unclean” for a pastor to touch.
As I stood soaking in the wisdom of Steve’s words, I remembered that there was also another person who didn’t seem to be afraid of dirtiness: Jesus.
Despite the incredibly strict religious rules of Judaism regarding being clean and unclean, Jesus advocates wading into all manner of “dirtiness” in order to love people.
For example, In Luke 5:12-13 it says “While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell facedown and begged Him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing”, he said, “be clean!” and immediately the leprosy left him.”
According to the Mosaic law, to touch a man with leprosy would immediately make one ceremonially unclean. Now what else is interesting is that Jesus doesn’t even need to touch him to heal him – numerous other times in the gospels we see Jesus healing others with just a word. However, what is the one thing this man has been missing for years now because of this horrible disease?
So Jesus, ignoring the issue of becoming “unclean”, reaches out and touches the man in a beautiful act of love.
In the story of the good Samaritan, we see something similar happening. In Luke 10:30-34 it says “In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.”
This again has to do with the whole notion of clean and unclean as in the Mosiac law to touch a dead body also made one ceremonially unclean. Thus, both the priest and the Levite don’t want to risk “dirtying” themselves and hence ignore the man. The Samaritan on the other hand, sees it totally differently. He sees compassion as far more important than staying “clean” and helps the man. So yet again, Jesus advocates for wading right into dirtiness in order to love people.
Perhaps my favorite thing about Jesus in this regard is that he actually has a reputation for hanging around “tax collectors and sinners”. In Matthew 9:10-13 it says “While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.””
It seems that Jesus has a very different understanding of what clean and dirty mean and while the religious leaders deem tax collectors and sinners as too dirty to associate with, Jesus sees them as the very mission as to why he is here.
This leaves me wondering: as Christians, who do we deem as too “dirty” or too “sinful” to hang around? Perhaps it’s those Muslim neighbors that we see as enemies because they believe in Islam. Perhaps it’s the woman who is very morally lose. We wouldn’t call her a prostitute to her face, but really that’s what we think she is. Maybe she’s just a really lonely, hurting person though who could benefit from having some real friends instead of just being surrounded by people who want to use her. Perhaps it’s that coworker who gets drunk every weekend. He still smells like alcohol on Monday morning so you avoid him and don’t want to hear about the wild parties he was at. He talks about them with some sense of excitement, but there’s also a hint of desperation – like it’s the only thing he’s really living for as he too is a lonely, hurting person.
Or maybe, just maybe, the person you think is too dirty and sinful to hang around is you. Maybe you think that whatever sin you’ve committed disqualifies you from God’s love and the love and community of Christians. Maybe the idea of even walking into a church feels terrifying to you because you feel like the “dirty” person amidst all these “clean” people.
If that’s you, let me assure you, you are no dirtier than the next person, we’ve all got our share of grit under our nails and Jesus isn’t afraid of wading into any of it. You’re in good company my friend.