There is a clear standard in the Old Testament regarding clean and unclean, and all things considered, it is better for a man to be clean. In fact, I would venture to guess that most men and women in those times spent their entire lives trying to stay clean and not get into anything that would make them unclean.
But then we come across verses like Numbers 19:14, and everything we think we know about clean and unclean changes.
These are your instructions for when a person dies in a tent: Everyone who goes into the tent and everyone who is in the tent will be unclean for seven days.
Well, yes, we say. That makes perfect sense. If a dead body is considered unclean, then anyone who comes into contact with that body in any way would then clearly become unclean, as well. Then we just keep reading as though the Bible is not completely crazy and nothing weird is going on here.
Did you catch it, though? There's an unclean dead body in the tent, and there is a category of persons who go into the tent. They go into the tent knowing that there is something unclean in there, knowing that they will come out unclean, knowing that it's going to cut them off from the community for seven days and require from them this extensive cleansing and atonement process that Israel would become extremely accustomed to. Yet, they go into the tent.
This is love.
That's all that it can be. It's someone who loves the person who died. It's someone who loves the family of the person who died. It's someone who is taking some kind of responsibility for preparing the body, removing the body, comforting the family, cleansing the house, purifying the uncleanness of the tent. It's somebody who has a vested interest in being a presence of love in a place of grief that goes into that tent.
Nobody else in their right mind would go in there. That place is unclean.
This is an amazing testimony to what it is that God requires of us, and it's a reminder that doing what God calls us to do doesn't exempt us from the ways that the world actually works. See, too often, we think that it ought. We think that if we're loving the way that God wants us to love, then it shouldn't be hard. It shouldn't be difficult. There shouldn't be any repercussions. But that's not what the Scriptures tell us. The Scriptures tell us that everyone who goes into the tent is unclean, but even in telling us that, it reminds us that there are those who will go into the tent.
And maybe we ought to be some of those. There's something unclean in there, sure, but there's something holy, too.
It's called love.