Holiness and Hygiene
This week’s devotion was provided by Bert Sikkelee. It was written by Bert’s friend and colleague, retired United Methodist pastor Larry Buxton.
Bev and I just got back from attending to my elderly mother after she fell. Mom needed some very personal attention that I didn’t feel up for attempting, so Bev did. She wiped her face, trimmed her toenails, brushed her hair. Now, as I ‘m re-reading John 13, I’m struck by how intimate and thoroughly body-focused this chapter is.
The foot washing story involves scalps, hands, feet, and a Master’s waist. There is rising and sitting, tying and untying, pouring, washing and wiping. Then bodies recline; shoulders touch; eyes flit; hands motion; fingers hold bread, dip and pass it to another; mouths chew and sip, swallow and whisper. John 13 is very much about bodies.
In Eugene Peterson’s Bible paraphrase, The Message, Peterson has Jesus adding at verse 10, “My concern, you understand, is holiness, not hygiene.” Yes, we understand. But holiness and hygiene aren’t so neatly separated.
Pondering this Scripture after coming home from tending to Mom, I see more clearly: it’s a gospel for caregivers. “You are blessed if you do [these things].” I hear Christ’s blessing on nurses who wash heads and feet – and everything else. I glimpse holiness in those who empty bedpans and drain catheters. Parents who wipe noses, bandage cuts and hold heads over commodes at midnight are doing the work of Christ. And I wonder if physical therapists, emergency room staff, or coroners and embalmers ever feel especially near to Jesus.
This gospel of physical tenderness also blesses spouses and lovers. Those who honor their own bodies, and the bodies of those they love, are loved by the One who loves us to the end.
“I have set you an example,” Jesus says, “that you should also do as I have done to you.” But we do these kindnesses not just in obedient imitation. “If you know these things,” Jesus concludes, “you are blessed if you do them.”
We do them – and we are blessed.
Loving Lord Jesus, you gave your whole life, body, and soul, for us. Help us to honor the bodies of those we love. Fill us with tenderness and respect for everyone we encounter today. Bless all those whose daily work involves caring for our human bodies. Make us holy, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.