“You must distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean.”
When I was very little, and still at primary school, we had a bizarre tradition. If someone should develop a cough, or sneeze, or have some kind of skin blemish, we would decry that they had the “dreaded lurgi.” We would then spend the rest of the day avoiding the person, and running away from them if they should come near us. With hindsight, it seems like a very mean thing to have done, but then I guess that sort of behaviour is normal for small children! None of us knew what the lurgi was, or why we should treat a poor classmate in this way, but it just happened. I guess it was just one of those playground traditions that continued down the generations, with no-one really sure why.
In our current article in our Mark Marathon, Jesus visits the home of a tax collector, Levi, who was regarded not just as a traitor, but also as someone who was ‘unclean’. Jesus is castigated by the Pharisees for spending time with Levi, and makes matters worse himself by sharing a meal with other tax collectors. According to the Pharisees, our verse today provided them with the justification for their attitude; they believed that the tax collectors were common and unclean, and that Jesus, as a good Jew, should have nothing to do with them, otherwise he might be tainted with their unclean-ness. Unfortunately, this verse is not referring to people at all, but this attitude of the Pharisees seems to have been one of those traditions that was handed down over time, but no-one could really remember the reason for it.
Not only should we be careful about labeling people unclean, but Jesus tells us that the outcasts in our society are precisely those we should be helping. So the next time you cross the road to avoid someone who looks slightly dodgy, the next time you walk past aBig Issue seller without buying a copy, the next time you blank someone because they are in some way different to you, just ask yourself this: what would Jesus do?