“Infected by Jesus”
Sermon on Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
June 8, 2008
The Rev. J. Curtis Goforth, O.S.L.
Have you ever heard of Foot and Mouth Disease? No, it’s not something that it seems all politicians suffer from when they say something that offends somebody. It’s actually a viral infection that has plagued the sheep and cows and livestock of the English countryside in recent years. The worst infection of this disease was back in 2001. That year, around seven million animals were slaughtered to help prevent the disease from spreading. Now that saddens me, not just because all those animals had to be euthanized, but because there was more than one or two filet mignons that went uneaten. My Hebrew professor in college always said that if God didn’t want us to eat cows that he wouldn’t have made them out of steak. That outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease back in 2001 was said to have cost the livestock industry more than $16 billion dollars.
Unfortunately, dreaded diseases are not limited to the sheep fields of Great Britain though. You can’t turn on the news anymore without hearing about some weary airplane traveler being infected with Avian flu. And, in hospitals all across the world the MRSA virus seems to be prevalent. There are all kinds of dreaded diseases and infections in our world.
There are certain members of my extended family who don’t leave home without a bottle of hand sanitizing gel and a mother load of stories about the dangers of germs and how many germs there are on disposable straws. I’ve never been one of those people who are terrified of germs though. I’ve even been known to eat a roasted marshmallow off of a shoe after it had fallen off an old coat hanger and been stepped on at a campout for the sum of $5.00!
You may be wondering what all this talk of germs and diseases has to do with our gospel lesson today. You might be surprised to see just how much it has to do with this lesson. You see, Jesus was always getting in trouble with the Pharisees and others because he disregarded the laws of clean and unclean that devout Jews held in very high regard. They didn’t have hand sanitizing gel back then, but they did have a complex and comprehensive set of cleanliness rules that were designed to accomplish the same basic thing.
You weren’t supposed to touch blood. They didn’t know that many diseases were transmitted by blood, but they still had that rule. You also weren’t supposed to touch a dead person. They didn’t know that bacteria were at work decomposing the physical body, but they still had that rule. These laws were important for their society. And one of many functions that many of these laws had was to provide for a sanitary environment free of disease. That’s one of the reasons that they didn’t want to touch a leper—out of the same fear that they might get the disease themselves. The ancient Jews understood just how contagious these things can be and how dangerous they are to individuals and to their society.
And here comes this Jesus guy, healing lepers, touching unclean dead bodies and making them come back to life, coming into contact with a woman whose been bleeding for the last 12 years, violating rule after rule after rule about cleanliness—and then having the audacity to call himself religious.
You heard these two healing stories of the synagogue official’s daughter being raised and the woman with the issue of blood being healed as healing stories and as examples of Jesus’ power over all that binds us here in this earthly kingdom. But the Pharisees and most ancient Jews for that matter, would have heard these two stories of healing primarily as stories of violations of religious laws regarding clean and unclean.
But this is nothing new to us. There is story after story in the gospels about Jesus breaking down the barrier between clean and unclean, between Jew and Gentile, between rich and poor, between the sacred and the secular. But there are some things that need to be said more than once or twice. Though Christians may not keep a kosher kitchen and though we like to think that we are not like the Pharisees, there’s quite a bit of Pharisee in each of us. We still regard people as clean and unclean, as devout religious types and non church-goers. The same division so prevalent in ancient Judaism is very much alive in the 21st century Church if we are honest about it.
In many ways, we live our lives as though Jesus never came into the world. Jesus was not crucified because he told us to love each other. Jesus was crucified because he challenged the way things were—because he made people very uncomfortable with his reckless love for all people. The saddest part to me is that it was the Pharisees who were just as unclean as those who Jesus healed in our gospel lesson this morning. They may not have been bleeding for the last 12 years, they may not have been physically dead, but they were every bit as unclean and dead as the two ladies in our story.
Our society is obsessed with this antibacterial craze. Take a walk down the cleaning supplies aisle in the grocery store and you’ll quickly see that almost every product has written in big letters on it “Antibacterial.” There are more hand sanitizing gel stations in hospitals than there are $7 aspirins. We hate to think of germs. We like to sanitize everything—including Jesus. The Pharisees are guilty of the same sin as us—we too try to sanitize Jesus. We like to remember how he loves us, but we so many times conveniently forget that Jesus loves even the unclean and the unrighteous and that he calls us to do the same. We try to sanitize Jesus and make him into a noble teacher and a gifted orator, but we fail to let him be Lord of our lives.
Infections can be terrible things. Those viruses and bacteria and germs can get into our bodies and take over. Fortunately our bodies have immune systems that defend us from such attacks. But unfortunately, we seem to try to defend ourselves from Jesus’ infectious love too. I think the reason the Pharisees and you and I try to sanitize Jesus is because we understand just how life-changing and contagious following Jesus can be. Somehow, the uncleanness of the two people Jesus healed in Matthew’s gospel this morning didn’t infect Jesus. Instead, Jesus infected them. A sick woman was healed; a dead girl was given new life. I think we could all use a little more infection in our lives. For it’s only when we stop trying to sanitize Jesus and we start letting him infect us that we can truly live. Amen.