Go Wash Your Hands

“When God asks to see your wounds and you have nothing to show, be concerned….I pray to God we have something to show” – Rev. Dr. Allan Boesak

The four words that preceded almost every meal I had growing up: “go wash your hands.” It was a simple statement by my caring mom, making sure that I was adequately prepared for a germ-free dinner.

But the idea of clean hands transcends the dinner table. I look down at my hands today and I see my manicured nails: clean, rounded edges with unchipped polish. My light skin is scar free and, besides a few wrinkles, I would say my hands are in pretty good shape. And while their cleanliness is probably saving me from picking up a nasty strain of influenza, I’m starting to think that maybe they are keeping me too safe. I have clean hands, but that is precisely my problem.

This past January I had the privilege to tour St Andrews House. It is a re-entry program for men leaving prison in the Chicago area. While there, I heard the story of “David.” He told of a life of poverty, struggles with addictions and twenty years in prison. While talking, I noticed he continually pulled at the long sleeves of his sweater, hiding his wrists. As we walked out, he shook each of our hands. In that moment I looked down and saw the scars. The pain of all those years of abuse and struggle were clearly marked on his wrists. Every day, David will look at those wounds and be reminded of his fight to survive.

I was reminded of David when I heard The Rev. Dr. Allan Boesak, a liberation theologian, speak at a conference a few weeks ago. He spoke of wounds and the notion of God checking our hands for scars when the final judgment comes. What he said not only changed me, but called me into action. “When God asks to see your wounds and you have nothing to show, be concerned.” For upon seeing our clean hands, God asks, “Was there nothing worth fighting for?”

That charge called me to think critically about my own life. I’ve never had to fight. I’ve never struggled for what I needed to survive or to maintain a sense of dignity. No one has questioned my faith or forced me to stand and say what I believe.

Or perhaps I have just never chosen to. My hands are clean because I have spent years sitting on the sidelines. I have chosen to turn a blind eye to the injustices that surround me every day. I’ve stayed quiet, because I can, not because I had to. And just like that, my privilege has caught up with me once again.

I am wrong in thinking that I don’t struggle, because I do. I struggle to act, to live out my Christian mission of helping my neighbors and to be the hands and feet of Christ. When we accept Jesus into our hearts, we also accept a call to radical action. That doesn’t mean we all need to pick up our protest signs and petition forms–that is not everyone’s call. But it also doesn’t mean that we can stand by when we are surrounded by oppression. Write a letter to your senator, mentor an at-risk youth, serve a meal at a homeless shelter, get out of your comfort zone! Get your hands dirty! (And yes, those charges are just as much a reminder for me as they are for you).

So I invite you to join me in reimagining your struggles and reframing the idea of clean hands.

As for me? I think I’ll start by removing my polish and allowing myself to get a little dirt under these nails.

11 comments on “Go Wash Your Hands

  1. I love this. I know that when I was growing up I was warned that I needed to have “clean hands” to be acceptable to God (which always seemed to be a euphemism for sexual purity). This is a really cool reframing that gives me a lot to chew on.

    • Thanks Katie. That is not a way in which I would have thought about clean hands but appreciate the differing perspective!

  2. Daniel Schulz-Jackson

    March 31, 2016 at 10:11 am Reply

    Great quotes, nice piece; thanks

  3. As someone who has struggled with self harm for over half of my life, the idea of displaying our scars for our Lord really struck a nerve with me. I will also be chewing on this one for a while.

    • Michelle – thank you so much for sharing. That is a perspective that never crossed my mind and, I pray that it did not come across in a hurtful way. Please know you’ve given me something to chew on as well. Take care!

  4. Great Read. Very thought provoking. My hands are dirty…but in a bad way. Dirty with negative thoughts and superficial judgements. I’ll wash my hands Kel and try to keep them cleaner longer 🙂 proud of you KJep

  5. You certainly are pursuing the right career. The article would make a great sermon if you threw in some verses. Nice job.

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