The Bible I read every day has footnotes to explain some of the concepts that may not be clear to the modern reader and the textual differences that may be important to understanding the Word. What's interesting is that one of these footnotes is an explanation of the words 'clean' and 'unclean' every time they are used. And to be honest, I've skipped over these footnotes for years, never really worrying about what the text has to say about the text.
After all, clean and unclean are fairly straightforward concepts. One indicates ritual purity; the other, the lack thereof. There's an entire book of the Bible devoted to this sort of thing, so if you've ever read Leviticus, you probably think you've got a fairly good grasp on this, too. Although you may wonder how something so glorious as bacon could ever be thought 'unclean.'
But the other day, I read that footnote. I read what the Word had to say about itself, about what it considered 'clean' and 'unclean' to mean. What it said surprised me:
Clean refers to anything that is presentable to God.
Presentable. That's the word the Word chose.
I have to admit that I don't spend a lot of my time worrying about being presentable to God; I want to be acceptable to Him. And I would have thought that following His commands, embracing His definitions, being particular about His particulars would have made me, and my offerings, acceptable. I would have argued that if I am clean, He must embrace me. It's not, I would have told you, that I think myself bold enough to stand before God, but that I think myself pure enough to be loved by Him.
But His love has never been about my purity. (Were that the case, I'm in serious trouble.)
When I read this footnote, when the words of it really hit me, I stopped. Presentable. You bring a clean offering to God, but that's no indication of the way He receives it. It simply means it's worthy to be offered at all.
So as I think about this, I think about little children. I think about myself as a little child. I think about all the macaroni art projects and stick figure drawings and all the other hand-made gifts that little children work so hard on, desperately wanting something to offer to their parents. I think about how children work to get every little detail right, to make sure it meets their own standards before they offer it. I think about how they can't help but think about what their mom or what their dad is going to think when they offer it. I think about how all these little projects inspire us to get it all right, to get it just right, to make it something we offer with the broadest of smiles and outstretched hands, awaiting the return smiles of gracious parents.
It's not really, uhm, acceptable as far as art goes. There are no macaroni pastings in the Louvre. There are no stick figures on the walls of the MET. Anyone who knows anything knows that art, real art, hangs on walls, not refrigerators. And yet, these offerings, these things that we, as children, have labored to make presentable, are not merely accepted; they are treasured.
Because what blood, sweat, and tears make presentable, love makes acceptable. It's as simple as that, really. It's because of the love of the receiver that our gifts mean anything at all. We come before Him with our best, but it is His love that makes it anything at all. We come before Him with our offerings, but it is Love that takes them in.
On some level, we have to already know this is true. I mean, if you have an infectious skin disease and you spend seven days outside of the camp, present yourself to the priest, wash seven times, and offer a sacrifice, how clean do you really feel? Has time, or ritual, made you clean? No. It's not until someone looks upon you with affection that you feel clean. It's not until someone looks you in the eye once more, takes your hand, walks next to you, embraces you that you feel clean. If you bury a loved one, the sting of death makes you feel your uncleanness. Is there any washing that can get rid of that? Of course not. You don't become clean just because night has fallen. You're clean when you come back into community, when you discover there's a place for you even when you're nursing this empty place inside of you.
It's always love that really makes us clean.
So we do our best to make ourselves presentable, but only because when we present ourselves before God, it gives Him the chance to make us acceptable. By accepting us. We think we come clean, but we come merely presentable; it is God's grace that makes us clean.
It is Love that makes us whole.