October 14, 2020 On filthy rags….
A bit more in-depth than a typical homily on “filthy rags”……
A theology that expects salvation to arise out of works, as is promoted by some social justice warrior evangelicals, will not convert people. That doesn’t mean that such good works aren’t useful. They are. They just won’t lead to salvation.
Here’s a little illustration for you. Read Jeremiah 38.
Jeremiah is thrown into a cistern with muck in the bottom after running into problems with the locals. The Ethiopian Eunuch petitions the king to allow him to give Jeremiah food. He goes a step further and goes to the storehouse to obtain “filthy rags” and throws them down to Jeremiah to put around himself so that when he throws down the rope to pull him out, he won’t be bruised and burned, hurt by the rope.
Now what saved him? The filthy rags? No, the rope and the Ethiopian eunuch’s strength did. Does that mean the rags had no value? No. They provided comfort in the process. So it is with good works. (“Filthy rags” that are our own attempt at self-justifying righteousness according to Isaiah). They have some value in consoling us once we are confronted with the true hopeless nature of our dark hearts. They give us some measure of protection against the pain when we face the depth of our depravity. But it is that understanding and faith that there’s someone up above with a rope that actually do the work that saves us.
The filthy rags must have been viewed as having some value to society or they wouldn’t have been stored in the storehouse. But let’s view them in the proper context. Their value is palliative, not salvific.
I am part of a circle of elderly mostly widow women who provide support and comfort for one another. One, in her 90s has shared with me that as a young teen she had to use rags for feminine hygiene due to her family’s poverty. She was shunned by other girls who had access to commercial feminine products. But for her, having the rags and washing them and reusing them was her only choice at the time.
Today she and these other women share things with one another as any one of them has things she can no longer use – food, clothing, shoes, household items, decorative items, linens, kitchen tools, small appliances, consumer items, etc. They call themselves The Passover Club. Whatever is not needed by one will simply pass over to another. Everything eventually finds a place to be of additional benefit to someone else. They may pass over swatches of sewing fabric never used or craft kits started but never completed, clothing that has been long used and faded or items with the sales tags still on them, vintage lace doilies or dollar store seasonal bargains. One never knows what will be found in a pass over bag or box when they gather or visit one another. These women have outlasted tough times and take nothing for granted, but rather than hoard, they pass over the excess in their lives for others to use, expecting nothing in return, but confident that because they are in the pass over circle, if a time comes that they have a need someone will have what is needed and it will pass over to them.
One who has aged to the point that her needs are very minimal and basic and who is not able to get out as much as in the past still is able to pass over the shared bags and boxes to others who come and go through her home, knowing that she is still a vital part of the pass over circle.
Some of the items eventually find their way to thrift stores where they are sorted and sold by volunteers or people with few other employment options at the moment. Items will be purchased for pennies on the dollar by bargain hunters to support charitable endeavors or given away to families that are struggling through hard times.
The “filthy rags”, though not actually filthy, but the least valuable of the soft goods, are eventually baled, stored in warehouses and shipped overseas to impoverished communities where they will be used or repurposed.
Things held lightly by generous hands pass over to others and eventually find a place they are needed and will be used in the economy of the kingdom of God.
A need rightly met, like a word rightly spoken, is like apples of gold on a silver tray. (adapted from Proverbs 25:11). We don’t always know where something we pass over to others will eventually be used, nor do we know how the words that we speak may eventually imipact another. But if we are mindful of their value and offer them, God will eventually use them.