A long time ago when I was a little boy, my favorite place to play was at a beach of Lake Michigan, two blocks from our house on Chicago's north side. In the early morning the lake was often as quiet and still as a mirror. I would throw stones into the lake, see the splash and watch the ripples dance away from the point of impact. I had read somewhere that even the smallest ripple would ultimately reach a far shore. I didn't know whether that was true or not, but the ripples intrigued me. I think throwing stones in water can be an analogy for our spiritual lives. God invites us to throw stones in the water, make our impact as it were, letting the ripples carry our love and compassion as far out as possible. That's the message Jesus preached. That's the message Jesus lived.
In the culture of Jesus' time, there were rules and laws covering 'most every aspect of people's lives. Should people violate these laws, they were considered unclean and were no longer members of ones family or community. To get back into people's good graces, the violators were required to undergo a lengthy ritual to purify themselves. If they didn't, they were forever excluded from their family and estranged from the community.
Interestingly, Jesus broke these laws with total abandon! He violated Sabbath rules by plucking and eating grain on the Sabbath, and by healing people on the Sabbath. These were serious violations, and Jesus was considered unclean because of it. There were rules about what you could eat and with whom you could eat. Jesus often disregarded these rules, and he was considered unclean because of it. In the culture of the time, you were not permitted to touch or
even associate with anyone considered unclean. But Jesus did. He touched and healed the nobodies, the outcasts, the lepers, the blind, the lame, the hemorrhaging woman. He ate and drank with these people, inviting them to his table, and he was unclean because of it.
Jesus lived in a patriarchal time wherein women were practically invisible, with little social standing. Women were considered unclean because of menstrual periods. But Jesus' friendship and relaxed association with women made it crystal clear to all that in his kingdom, women were the equals of men. And Jesus was unclean because of this.
In today's parable of the Good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite don't walk past the wounded man because they are mean and uncaring. They walk past him because their laws say they would be unclean if they even touch him. And whom did Jesus point out as the "good neighbor" in this parable? The Samaritan, a foreigner, an enemy of the Jewish people, an unclean person! Wow, heady stuff here! Jesus, whom we revere as having it all together, was himself unclean. That's because for Jesus, rules were secondary to love and compassion. So the ripples of Jesus' love and compassion touched everybody : they reached the far shore.
So where does this leave us? Who are today's "unclean"? The victims of human trafficking, street beggars, the homeless and unemployed, prisoners, the handicapped, the terminally ill, the lonely and depressed, those living in extreme poverty? They're all in Jesus' circle of compassion and love. When we throw our rock to make our splash, how far do our ripples reach? How large a circle do our love and compassion embrace? Is it large enough to deserve the title Christian?