Two types of work can be found, the kind that causes hands to get dirty and the kind that does not. A constant reminder of the fact that I work with my hands is they usually appear dirty. It’s not that I don’t wash them in reality my hands are washed several times a day. Working with dirty objects on a daily basis causes staining in all the little cracks and crevices in my hands. Every little scar and callous on my hands tell a part of my story. It has happened that a few people have made judgmental comments to me about my hands but most simply understand. Admittedly there have been social occasions when surrounded by others from a different type of work that I felt self-conscious about shaking hands.
Jesus told a parable of two men, one with clean hands and one with dirty hands. Luke 18:9-14 (NIV) 9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
To a Pharisee righteousness came through physical acts. One of their rituals involved hand washing. With great ceremony a Pharisee would wash his hands in the prescribed manner as a way to be righteous. This was one of many religious ceremonial practices that they practiced to set themselves apart and think themselves above others.
Tax collectors were despised men who usually used their position for dishonest gain. Tax collectors were not known for following religious guidelines. You would not find them standing in line for a ceremonial cleansing. They were men with dirty hands.
In this parable the Pharisee stands with great confidence and declares himself righteous and holy above all others. The tax collector recognizes he is not worthy of forgiveness. He is not even able to look up when praying to God. Jesus told this parable and declared the tax collector would have been the one justified that day before God. This would have been a shocking declaration. Forgiveness is from the position of the heart. No amount of religious activity can replace a repentant heart.
It is altogether easy to fall into the trap of self-righteousness. Humility is thrown out once a person prides themselves about their ministry contributions or personal prayer life. When pride has firmly rooted itself it seems acceptable to look down on others. When a person is self-focused they cannot focus on God. Such a person can only see others as dirty handed. Here is a truth that cannot be ignored, we are all dirty handed people who are not worthy to lift our eyes to heaven. Thank you God for your amazing grace that allows us to be justified and cleansed by your love.
Rev. Burt Schwab