THE CLEAN UNCLEAN
There are actually 2 stories about being ‘clean’ or ‘unclean’ within this Gospel (Mk 1:40-45). The first story is about one person. The second story is about more than one person.
Let us listen again to the first story:
A leper came to Jesus, and kneeling down, begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. (Mk 1:40-43)
This sick man was considered unclean according to the law of the time because he was a leper. He was also unclean inside because, like everyone, he was a sinner. But this unclean person was made clean because he knew his condition, and more importantly, he humbly asked Jesus, he asked God, to heal him. This unclean man was made clean. In other words, the unclean became the clean. He was of the clean unclean.
Now the second story, the story of more than one person. Let us listen together.
On that day, in the crowd that was watching and avoiding this unclean man, the leper, there were other people who were considered by the law ‘clean’. Unlike the leper, they did not have to keep their garments rent and their head bare. They did not have to cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean!’ They did not have to live apart, outside the community. No one avoided them. No one found them physically disgusting. They enjoyed going to the temple and doing their business. They were respected for their high positions in the society. They were admired for their success. They were honored for their piety.
Up to this point, the situation is normal, nothing wrong. But can things go wrong? In asking this question, I don’t want to be pessimistic or negative but realistic, because things may go wrong in reality. How could things go wrong in this story? Well, things could go wrong when people began to think that they were cleaner, better or more righteous than the unclean leper. This thinking is not only wrong but even dangerous. Why? Because in reality everyone is unclean because everyone has sins. People can look clean outside, but inside they are unclean to some extent. They could be called the clean unclean.
But the problem is this: The clean unclean are in real danger. Why? Because they lose their awareness of their own uncleanliness, their own sinfulness, their own unworthiness. As a consequence, they may suffer a distortion in their psychology and begin to shift their attention to others and look for problems in others. You may have observed that when we are struggling with our sinfulness, we tend to criticize, blame and attack others more easily. Sometimes this tendency is called ‘projection’, that means we project our problems onto others in order to avoid the battle inside us.
What else can we say about the danger of this thinking or mentality? We just have to look at our human history to know the reason. What caused the world wars, wars between religions, wars between races, conflicts between families, disharmony between friends,…? Or more directly, let’s just turn on the Tivi today and listen to the news about the horror caused by the group ISIL. One of the main reasons is because they think they are cleaner, more righteous than the rest.
Conclusion: When people think they are cleaner than others, they make themselves more unclean and create dangers, for them and for others.
Dear friend, Lent is approaching in a few days. It seems to be a good opportunity for us to look carefully and honestly into own experience and see if we have ever thought that we were cleaner, better, or more righteous than someone else. And if we have, let us correct our thought and attitude.
As the leper asked Jesus to cure his illness, we may also want to ask Jesus to cure us of this spiritual sickness that we may have. Eventually, it’s better to be the clean unclean than the unclean clean.
Joseph Viet, O.Carm.
in Vietnamese/Tieng Viet: https://only3minutes.wordpress.com/tieng-viet/nguoi-o-ue-thanh-sach/