By Betsy Childs:
Summer in Alabama is hot and humid, but we have, as a consolation, delicious peaches. As I unpacked the basket of peaches I bought at a fruit stand, I thought to myself that a perfectly ripened peach eaten in season surely testifies to common grace. Then I saw it: the rotten peach at the bottom of the basket. I couldn’t throw the mushy thing into the trash fast enough.
I have experience with bad peaches. I know that if I left the moldy peach in the bowl with the others, it would take over. Even the peaches that were firm when I bought them would be rotten in no time. Fruit mold spreads. In the book Home Comforts (which I consider the highest authority on domestic matters), Cheryl Mendelson writes, “Even a spot of mold is a call for action.”
The Levitical law shares this healthy fear of blight. If fabric showed evidence of mold, it was defiled. A house that showed persistent signs of mold had to be torn down. If not eradicated, mold will spread to whatever it contacts. The laws about mold are mixed in with laws about leprosy. As long as a skin disease was deemed persistent, the person with the disease had to remain apart from the community:
The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, “Unclean, unclean.” He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp. (Leviticus 13:45-46)
Like mold on peaches, defilement spreads in only one direction. The Israelite who touched someone unclean became defiled because defilement travels from the unclean to the clean.
Jesus, knowing the Scriptures, would have known how to avoid becoming unclean. Yet he repeatedly touched things that should have defiled him. In the first chapter of Mark, when a leper approached Jesus and asked him to make him clean, Jesus touched him. For the first time, the trajectory of defilement was reversed. Rather than becoming defiled by the leper, Jesus made him clean. A few chapters later, Jesus was surreptitiously touched by an unclean woman. Again, the defilement reversed direction, and she became clean. It’s as if water suddenly flowed uphill.
Each time Jesus touched a dead body, he should have been defiled. When he touched the sick, he could have become sick. Instead, the dead became alive and the sick became well. Jesus’ life gave life, his cleanness so deep it was contagious.
Anyone can take what is clean and make it unclean. (I do it all the time accidentally when I dump my cup of coffee into a dishwasher full of clean dishes.) Only Jesus can reverse defilement. He doesn’t do it with bleach or burnt offerings or antibiotics. He does it by the sheer strength of his holiness.
He can make us clean too. At the cross our sins were laid upon him, blighting him with defilement so great that even his Father turned away. And yet cleansing and life flow from that death to all who will receive them. Ultimately, disease and death must retreat in fear before the one who says, “Behold, I am making all things new.”