Holy Wednesday – The Disease of Handwashing

This is Drew’s sermon from the Community Wide Holy Week Services hosted jointly First Presbyterian Church and First United Methodist Church in San Saba. This sermon was given at First United Methodist Church (because of a little gas leak across the street). The text for the sermon was Luke 23:1-25.

The Disease of Handwashing

When I was in junior high they used to make us write copies of this thing called “George Washington’s Rules of Civility” It was about a page and a half long, and it was about behaving like a gentleman, and if you were in trouble the teacher would make you handwrite a copy or two copies, or a copy in which you switched colors every letter if you were a repeat offender.  I remember one time, I was walking with this other kid, Jon.

Jon wasn’t like me, he didn’t know to how keep his head down and make himself unnoticeable, and had managed to get himself in trouble with some of the bigger kids in the school. He was supposed to make some copies for them so they didn’t have to. He hadn’t done it.  I was with him when they came after him in the hallway. We were walking together, and I heard them call his name. He took a few steps over to where they were. I took a few steps in the opposite direction. They didn’t call my name. And this older kid got right up in his face, and picked him up by the front of his shirt and said, “You better have those copies for me tomorrow or I will mess up your face after school” or something like that, I don’t remember the exact threat, except that Jon’s face was in danger, and mine could be too, all I had to do was speak up. I did not speak up. I knew Jon and I liked Jon, but he wasn’t worth getting my face messed up for. I minded my own business. This wasn’t my fight. Eventually they put him down and moved on. Jon and I acted like it never happened.

Pontius Pilate finds himself in an odd situation, according to the Gospel of Luke. The chief priests, and the rulers and the elders have brought Jesus to him, along with a series of charges against Jewish piety. They threw some other accusations around, but they were flimsy, and Pilate starts looking for an excuse to get out of this trial. He finds one. Jesus is a Galileean. Send him to Herod, let him deal with this mess.

Herod is excited to see him. He thinks this could be fun. He wants to see a miracle. “C’mon, Jesus, show us some of your party tricks!” Bloodied and bruised from the beatings of the night before, Jesus says nothing. If he couldn’t keep the party going, what good was Jesus to him? They beat him some more, and sent him back to Pilate.

Pilate can’t seem to escape this mess. He knows Jesus is innocent of all the charges. But the Temple authorities are not satisfied. And Pilate knows what his business is. His business is to keep the peace in Jerusalem, and these fellows could end it for him. They could stir up a riot. Pilate was the 5th of  6 governors in 20 years in Jerusalem, and his predecessors weren’t getting promoted. Pilate was an ambitious man. This one man isn’t fighting for. It’s not worth throwing away his career to protect this man from his enemies. He asks them what they would have him do. We say, “Crucify him!” Pilate washes his hands.

It’s funny how easy it is to tell ourselves that something our fight. To wash our hands. To choose our own safety, our own pleasure, our own ambition, over another person’s life. The national media has spent the last few months covering the trial of two teenage boys who raped a girl at a party. They said it was a football town, and that football is a disease that allowed this to happen. What they have spent less time covering is that there were more than 50 people there at the party, who washed their hands. Football’s not the disease. It’s handwashing.

We like to imagine that those people and those places are far from us, but they aren’t. Every single one of us has washed our hands of something, even if it was just to decide not to know something. There’s an author, Julie Clawson, who wrote a book called Everyday Justice. It’s about how many of the products we use everyday come to us through violent or brutal means, or are cheaper because of them. One of the things she mentions in her book is about chocolate (I’m sorry I have to do this to y’all). But most of the chocolate that we get comes from West Africa, where children are often kidnapped and forced to harvest cocoa for little to no pay. And she said when that book came out a lot of people were angry. But they weren’t angry at the slavers, or the chocolate companies that buy cocoa from people who employ slavery. They were angry at her, for telling them about it. They had wanted to keep their hands clean.

We spend a lot of time this week talking about the suffering of Jesus. This is the week that we remember how Jesus died, and why Jesus died, and the miracle of the empty tomb. We talk a lot about his suffering because his suffering is related to our suffering. In fact, his suffering is connected to the suffering of every person on this planet. All the children in West Africa, the teenagers in our high schools, the people in our nation that have no place to lay their heads. They all suffer for the same reason Jesus did. Because someone minded their own business. Because someone washed their hands.

It’s a funny thing about Jesus, all the things he went through, that willingness to go and be with the unclean, with the tax collectors, and sinners. You think that he would be just about the dirtiest person there was. But instead of becoming dirty by hanging out with all of these dirty people. Those dirty people became clean. Heck one time he spat in the ground (saliva was considered very unclean in those days, almost like poop), and he made mud. And he put that mud in that blind man’s eyes. And the man received his sight.  Every where he went, he reconciled people to one another. He made people clean. Even Pilate and Herod, who were great enemies. After they encountered Jesus, they became friends.

You can wash your hands all you want. You can mind your own business all you want. But it won’t make you clean. It’s Jesus, who showed up before Pilate bloodied and beaten, with the dirt of all the people he’d met all over him, who will make you clean.

Fred Craddock’s a little old preacher, used to preach in a little old town, not big like the sprawling metropolis of San Saba. On a good day, it might have had 400 people in it, and they had a few churches there, and on Sunday the women and the children would go on up to church. But the men, most of them went out to the little café in the center of town, shoot the breeze while they had a few cups of coffee. Once in a while someone at the café would go on over to church, because their wife or their kids or someone had go to them, but they were still the biggest and the strongest group in town. And the café had its regulars just like the churches did. And one of those regulars was Frank. He an institution at the café, and people said, Frank’ll never go to church. Fred said stopped to visit with him in the street one day, and Frank kind of jumped on him a little bit. He said, “I work hard, I take care of my family, and I mind my own business. Far as I’m concerned, everything else is fluff.” So everyone was really surprised, when he came to church one Sunday morning and asked Fred to baptize him. Folk figured he must have been sick, or scared or something.

But one day a little while down the road, Fred was talking to him, and he asked, “You remember that little saying you used to give me, I work hard, I take care of my family, and I mind my own business?”

“Yeah, I remember.”

“You still say that?”

“Yeah,”

“Then what’s the difference?”

“I didn’t know what my business was.”

Friends, we are in the business of serving, like our lord served us. We are in the business of caring for people. We are in the business of declaring that every life, every human life, is a life worth saving. We are in the business of resurrection. Now let’s go get our hands dirty.

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About Drew

I'm the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in San Saba, TX. I love camping, rhetorical criticism, and church food. I'm passionate about God's love, and the messy, beautiful ways it shows itself in our communities every day.
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