Why did Hezekiah pray for God's forgiveness for an unclean people? Especially when they were not his unclean people?
Hezekiah's people had followed his edicts; they had cleansed themselves in preparation for the Passover. Hezekiah's people had come the way that the Lord wanted them to come. Hezekiah's people were a holy people, or at least, they were trying to be. Hezekiah's people had invested themselves in this Passover; they were committed to doing it to glorify God. These stragglers from Israel? They showed up unclean.
But what Hezekiah saw in these Israelites is what is often too easy for us to miss in those that we consider "not our people:" he saw their hearts.
He saw that these men from Israel had invested themselves just as much in this Passover as his men from Judah had. They had traveled a long distance to get here. They had come against the mocking of their neighbors and fellow countrymen. They had wearied themselves and spent their own time and money and provisions to get here. Their feet were caked dirty from the walk.
What Hezekiah saw was that these men, too, were a holy people, or at least, they were trying to be. And it is on the basis of their hearts, not the status of their ritual purity, that Hezekiah prays for them.
It's because he sees how far they have come that he is willing to place himself prayerfully in the gap that remains between them and the Lord.
Oh, that we would pray like Hezekiah!
We are a people who guard our prayer too much. We spend a lot of our time trying to figure out who is worthy of having us pray for them and what we should ask for on their behalf. When we see an unclean person standing before it, it's all too easy for us to either cast them out or to pray for their cleanness - rather than to pray for God's acceptance of them. We are a people who use our pray to wring ragged persons through as their last step to God. Instead of standing prayerfully in the gap, we place all kinds of stuff in the gap and then prayerfully tell them "just a little bit further. You can do this!"
And trying to convince ourselves to judge by the heart doesn't get us any closer, sadly. Because we are a people who believe the heart is wicked, particularly the heart that can't even get ritual purity right. We have all kinds of excuses why the depraved heart of another is not worthy of our prayer. We say things like, "Well, they clearly don't want to help themselves, so why should I help them?" For crying out loud, they showed up to holy festival unclean.
We so often forget, or plainly fail to see, how far persons have come to get here. We so often forget, or fail to see, their journey to this point. We look at their dirty feet and wonder how they could even think of tracking that mud into the Lord's house, but we neglect to consider at all the paths they have had to walk that muddied their feet in the first place.
And their hearts are pure, even if their feet are not.
Oh, that we were more like Hezekiah.
Do you know how much it would change our world if we were a people willing to prayerfully bridge the gap for men and women like these? Do you know how much it would change our churches if we stopped figuring out who was worthy to stand in our midst and committed ourselves to praying God's acceptance of all who would come, and His forgiveness for the failures that entrap us all, even when our hearts are pure? Do you know what it would do if we considered the real hearts of our neighbors and not just the value judgments that we put on them from our own perspective? Do you realize how it would change everything if we saw those dirty feet as marks of a holy journey that has already come this far?
Do you know how much it would change us?
Hezekiah made sure that all who wanted and who came would be accepted by God, even when that meant that he had to humble himself, set aside his judgments, and pray them home those last few feet.
Friends, let us be a people who pray each other home.