Hands can push buttons, open doors, pull triggers, take hold of other hands, prepare food, punch, grip, steal, touch, play an instrument and create symbols of hatred. With everything our hands are capable of, there is no doubt you’ve taken them for granted.
In fact, how often do you “wash up” before a meal? Perhaps if you grew up in a household with parents rigidly insisting you do so before coming down for supper, it’s a habit, but it’s typically not done unless your hands are filthy. Don’t you know where your hands have been?
Washing of hands has little cultural significance here in ‘Merica beyond the basic need to decontaminate those grubby mitts using antibacterial hand soap, which we all know eliminates 99.99% of all germs, prevents foodbourne illnesses, saves the environment and solves world hunger.
But in days of yore,
Washing up meant so much more.
Before Christianity existed, the Jewish priests were required to wash their hands before doing pretty much anything. Doing so represented purity, setting their hands apart for what they were about to do. While the obvious benefit was removing any dirt from other stuff, it meant they were washing off the impurities of past activities before carrying out any sacrifices in the tabernacle. They didn’t want to take the impure garbage into something that belonged to the Lord. This looks like old school tradition reserved for the OT, but it would bear much greater significance later.
Do you remember the scene? It was the middle of the night, and the Jewish leaders had just brought Jesus to a man named Pontius Pilate, trying to convince the Roman prefect to condemn this self-proclaimed king of the Jews to death for blasphemy. Pilate finds no fault in Jesus and tries to send the Jews away, only to buckle under the pressure later. And what does he do? Yes, he washes his hands.
Much like Aaron and the priesthood cleansed themselves and placed the responsibility of a nation of sin upon the lamb at the altar, Pilate unwittingly performs a ritual engraved in Jewish tradition before sending the final sacrifice, the Lamb of God, to the cross.
It’s a cool history lesson and a significant correlation between a seemingly archaic tradition and an expression still steeped in our vernacular (“wash my hands of this,” in case you’re oblivious). But it’s also a lesson for ourselves.
You can still eat without washing your hands if you’d like. And it’s likely you will not be executing God’s Son anytime soon.
Have you set yourself apart for God’s work? If you’re in ministry, the implications are significant — you should never start doing any work for God without setting yourself apart, purifying yourself, preparing your heart and your hands to serve Him in righteousness.
But for everyone else that just skipped that paragraph, it means you should take a look at your hands. What do they do? What are they holding? Are they clean? If you care about what God thinks, it’s important to think about how clean your hands are, how they reflect your behavior and your standing with God.
Jesus is not concerned with your sin, other than that you wash your hands of it. He’s already done the work, so there’s no need to be forgiven, if you’re already in that position. But to continue on without washing your hands is just plain gross.
So wash up.