Sunday, April 25, 2021

An Unclean People

In the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah, the people of God did something they had not done in generations: they celebrated the Passover. 

The Passover was meant to be celebrated in the first month, but the people of Judah were not clean, and there were not enough clean priests and Levites to facilitate the ceremony, so Hezekiah moved it to the second month. This was completely acceptable under the law of Moses, who had addressed this issue in the wilderness when someone who was ceremonially unclean asked about his exclusion from the festival. There, God had made provision for the unclean: if you are unclean on the Passover in the first month, you may celebrate it on the same day in the second month.

(I have always wondered, then, what happens if you are unclean also in the second month. The smallest little things, some of which were out of control of the person in question, could make a man or woman unclean. But God doesn't address this, so perhaps I worry too much.) 

So surrounded by his unclean people, Hezekiah moves the re-institution celebration of the Passover to the second month and orders his people - including the priests and the Levites - to purify themselves and make sure they are clean in time for the ceremony. 

Then, he sends message throughout Israel. Israel and Judah have been two separate kingdoms for quite some time, but Hezekiah recognizes that, at the very least, these are still his brothers. These are still men of God, men who worship the same Lord. Maybe they want to be part of the Passover, too. Maybe this can be the first step in reconciliation between the kingdoms. Maybe God will honor the men of Israel who come to worship Him. There are a lot of potential blessings at stake here, so Hezekiah invites them to come. 

The account in Chronicles tells us that many of the men of Israel just laughed at him. They mocked his request. They scoffed and turned away. They had no interest in going to Judah. They had no interest in the Passover. They didn't care what kind of book Hezekiah claimed to have found in the Temple or what the law of Moses seemed to say. The Passover just wasn't their thing, and they weren't going. They probably thought it was a ploy to get them to defect from Israel to Judah, or thought that perhaps it was a betrayal of their own people. How laughable of Hezekiah to even invite them! Didn't he know what disaster this might bring?

But a few of the men of Israel come. From a few of the tribes of God's people, they show up. They come straggling in from a long journey, just in time for the Passover. There's just one problem: many of them are not clean. (Aha! So perhaps I do not worry too much.) They didn't know. They didn't have time to purify themselves. They have invested in the journey, and journeying is a dirty business. And now, there's no time to cleanse themselves. 

So Hezekiah prays. 

He prays for the cleanness of the unclean men. He prays for the Lord to accept them on account of the purity of their hearts that has drawn them here. He prays for God to forgive them for their uncleanness and to recognize the journey they have just made that has dirtied their feet for His sake. Hezekiah prays for God's forgiveness, and then, he draws his brothers from Israel right into the fold and serves them up a big, fat cut of lamb - the sandals of sojourning still on their feet. 

And I love this story. It is so beautiful. There are so many layers to what is going on here in this one simple prayer, in this one simple act. In this seemingly-complicated observance of the Passover that is this mingling of Judah and Israel, of lost and found, of clean and unclean. So let's take a few days this week and look closer at this story and peel back just a few of these layers. 

They may just change the way we love those who have come a long way to be here. 

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