My dog is a bit different from the border collie who has made recent headlines. That dog, Chaser, has a vocabulary of more than a 1000 words and has been called the smartest dog in the world. Ewok, my five-year-old shitzu, has a tenuous grip on six words: down, come, sit, potty, cookie, and walk. Although I have seen occasional flashes of brilliance, when he was just told to ‘get down’ from the chaise lounge, he raised his head to look at me quizzically and then rolled back onto his side. Now had I said ‘walk’, I think it would have been a different story. He would have jumped down in a flash, galloping to the front door where his leash is hanging. That is one of the words he likes. His other favorite is ‘cookie’.
I have heard that dogs need to hear a word 100 times before they master its meaning. It took Ewok every one of those 100 times to learn ‘come’, but if he has managed to slip over to our neighbor’s yard which has its own abundant supply of brown bumps littering the lawn (the dog equivalent of Six Flags), it is almost impossible to get him to respond to my call. Even the bellowed promise of “Cookie, cookie!” isn’t enough to bring him bounding home.
In spite of his cognitive deficits he has an uncanny instinct that his bath is looming. No matter how nonchalantly I gather the supplies, how casually I call to him, he somehow KNOWS what is about to happen and disappears beneath my bed. He loathes what is coming next. He is content to be a stinker, blissfully unaware of the aromas emanating from his little body. I do not bathe him to be mean; I bathe him so that he can be tolerated in the same room with us. It is clearly to his advantage to occasionally have a bath.
When I get him into the tub, he usually struggles to get away. There have been times when the bathroom door has inadvertently been left open and he has managed to escape. I am led on a merry chase down the stairs and around the living room, scrambling to catch the dripping wet, slippery little stinker. I don’t know why Ewok hasn’t learned to give in gracefully and just get it over with. The end result is inevitable. He weighs 16 pounds soaking wet; I weigh, well, more than that, and I will win this battle. And, if I may anthropomorphize here, although he objects to the bath, Ewok really doesn’t mind being clean. He is now acceptable to us, and is once again invited to snuggle on our laps.
Personally, I love a long, hot shower or a delicious soak in a tub full of fragrant bubbles. But I have to admit that there is a kind of cleansing I find much less inviting, one I sometimes shrink away from. I am referring to the scrubbing that my heart is often in need of. And while it seems to often take the equivalent of a spiritual steel-wool scouring pad to get the job done, I am so thankful that there is Someone who is willing to do the job.
As I was thinking about this second kind of cleansing, I was reminded of an encounter between Jesus and a small group of men. He was headed to Jerusalem when he came to a village that was on the border of Galilee and Samaria. From a distance he heard a group of men yelling to him, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” The reason these men were keeping their distance is because they had leprosy; they were required by law to stay away from the general public.
Jesus immediately knew that they were lepers and, knowing what he planned to do, he told them to go to the priests for an inspection; the priests were the only ones who could issue a certificate of health to someone who had been diagnosed with leprosy. As the group of ten men went on their way toward the priests, they found that the symptoms of leprosy had disappeared. Amazing! A devastating social stigma was ended with just one sentence from an itinerant preacher. This was an astounding cleansing from a dreadful disease.
When one of the men noticed that his skin lesions were gone, he turned around and came back to see Jesus. He fell down on the ground in front of the Lord and expressed his profound gratefulness. It was at that time he had another kind of healing; an even more significant healing. Jesus said to him, “Your faith has made you whole.” It seems from the language used in the original Greek that this grateful man was made whole in his soul; he was cleansed on the inside.
On the night he was betrayed we see once again Jesus is interested in more than physical cleanliness. Jesus became like the lowliest of all servants as he took off his outer garments and knelt down to wash his disciples’ feet. Peter, recognizing the incongruity of the Master being the one to stoop to this task, was extremely reluctant to allow Jesus to wash his feet. Jesus told Peter that if he didn’t let him wash his feet, they could no longer have fellowship with each other. It was then that Peter got an inkling that there was more to this foot washing than just getting the grime off his feet; there was a deeper message that Jesus wanted to convey.
What was that message? Jesus told Peter that he couldn’t understand the whole concept right now, but that eventually he would. After Jesus died on the cross and rose again, it was the Holy Spirit who taught Peter about the ongoing need for cleansing.
All of us who are disciples of Jesus have been forgiven. However, because we still sin we are ever in need of spiritual cleansing. But, like Peter, we are sometimes reluctant to have our ‘bath’.
Have you ever been like Ewok? Wanting to run away even though you know you are smelling ‘stinky’ to God? Ewok still hasn’t learned that there are two ways to go about having his bath – the easy way or the hard way. Which way will you choose?
The need for cleansing is inevitable because we inevitably sin, so why not give in gracefully and get it over with? We need to so relish the closeness we have with God when we are clean, that we do not shrink away from what God needs to do.
May it be the desire of our hearts to be made clean and acceptable to him so that we can once again snuggle on his lap.
check MRK 10:45