Day 5: STAINED
Isaiah 4:4 …once the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning.
Jerusalem was the holy city. The holiest city, where the temple was, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept – the Ten Commandments, enshrined in a tabernacle in a temple, where God showed up most intensely, most intimately, where only priests of the highest order could gain admittance.
Over and over again in scripture, Jerusalem gets soiled, dirtied, derided. Its inhabitants have failed to live up to the task of being citizens of the holy city. Even Jesus mourns the loss of Jerusalem’s holy status: “you who kill the prophets,” he says, “and stone those sent to you. How I long to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks.”
That’s just after Jesus has reamed out the scribes and the pharisees, the religious leaders, for being massive hypocrites: “…you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!” In Matthew 23, he goes on and on and on, calling the church leaders hypocrites no fewer than seven times.
Being a church leader is not such a great role to find one’s self in during these apocalyptic Advent days. We are the scribes, the pharisees, the blind guides and hypocrites. We are the residents of Jerusalem who have killed the prophets and stoned those sent to us. We are the ones Jesus is calling out for straining gnats and swallowing camels.
It is so deeply tempting to point my finger at particular church leaders – famous ones and not-so-famous ones – and point out all the ways they focused every bit of their time and energy on straining out the gnats, failing to look over their shoulder to notice the camel doing some massively destructive dances right behind them.
There are plenty of places to put the blame. But I am working hard to focus on my own repentance and my own responsibility.
So: I am sorry for all the times I prioritized appearances and peace-keeping over justice and mercy and faith. I am sorry that, for so long, I refused to see the injustices running rampant in my own church – congregation and denomination. I am sorry that I sacrificed honesty and the possibility of restoration for the sake of conflict avoidance and whatever the current spectre of ‘unity’ was at the moment. I am sorry for speaking in mealy-mouthed ways to avoid upsetting some portion of some demographic. I am sorry for protecting a reputation instead of a person. I am sorry for my hypocrisy, sorry for all the ways that I have been and continue to be a whitewashed tomb, a blind guide, a strainer of gnats and a contributor to the bloodstains that are soiling our holy places.