April 5, 2020
“Wash Your Hands”
The Reverend Joseph C. Alsay
Philippians 2:5-11 & Matthew 27:11-54
From the time we are little to the time we are grown, we are always instructed to wash our hands.
As a youngster every time you turn around your mother is telling you to wash your hands before you do this or wash your hands after you do that. You can’t go a day without having to wash your hands. It doesn’t get any easier when you get older either. Everywhere you look, there is a sign somewhere that says, please wash your hands. You visit a hospital and you’re told to wash your hands before visiting a patient, you come home and your wife gently reminds you to wash your hands.
Recently I visited a local restaurant and went to use the restroom, as I exited the restroom there was a sign on the wall that read,
“Employees must wash hands before returning to work.”
And now in the midst of the horrific nightmare we are all experiencing with the spread of the worldwide epidemic called the coronavirus, the CDC is pleading with us all to simply “Wash our hands!”
The message is everywhere and it’s quite clear. From a commercial featuring baby shark, chalk creations on the sidewalks, and even in our own restrooms here at the church.
It’s one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself, your family, and your community. Turn on water, wet your hands, apply soap, rub together vigorously for at least 20 seconds, be sure you get the back of both hands, in between every finger, under all 10 nails, fingertips, wrists, both thumbs, rinse off all soap, dry your hands with a clean towel, turn off the faucet with the towel.
The problem is, if you’re are like so many, you’ve problem been doing it wrong. Which can lead some to say “I wash may hands of the entire thing.”
Have you ever heard the expression, “washing your hands of something or someone?” Well, this idiom actually does come from the Bible. The phrase when used in our vernacular means that we desire to no longer have anything to do with something or someone. We wish to abdicate all responsibility for something.
For example: An exasperated parent may thus threaten a rebellious teenager with the words, ‘I’m sick and tired of telling you to do your homework. I won’t tell you again. Now it’s up to you whether you pass or fail your exams. I wash my hands of it all’.
You may be asking, “Well, what does all of this hand-washing have to do with Palm/Passion Sunday and our gospel text this morning?”
I recently read that biblical scholars have agreed that Pontius Pilate didn't wash his hands long enough or thoroughly enough to avoid taking any of the responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus.
While many have speculated over Pilate's exact handwashing technique, it's now clear that he just ran a little water over his hands before shaking the droplets off. This was a common practice at the time, with men who just used the restroom even not washing their hands at all if no other man was in the bathroom to witness them. Luckily, we have outgrown these shortcomings in modern times.
"Pilate needed to scrub his hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds to avoid taking any responsibility for the crucifixion," said one researcher. "He should have sung 'Happy Birthday' twice or as good Episcopalians do, sing the Doxology. Then, a good thorough drying with a paper towel or Dyson Airblade would have sealed the deal. As it stands, just running a little water over his hands wasn't near enough to help him avoid judgment from God."
Pilate washed his hands before the crowd, saying, I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves.
By washing his hands of the affair, Pilate was saying that while he had the authority to sentence Jesus to death, he wasn't taking the responsibility for Jesus's crucifixion. The responsibility lay with the crowd. Jesus died at their hands.
So, for his own survival, Pilate went along with the crowd. It was this which sent Jesus to the cross.
The trouble with Holy Week is that it is full of stories which remind us about the sort of people we are. Pilate's story reminds us about the sort of people we are. Because we know what it's like to go along with the crowd. For our own survival, we know what it's like to allow others to suffer. We know what it means to wash our hands of a situation, for our own survival. We've all done it a thousand times.
So, how do we wash our hands of the blood of Christ?
For some, it is not acting when it is in your power to act. Instead of being the good Samaritan, you cross to the other side of the road like the priest did.
For some it is not speaking up when doing so might bring justice to a situation.
We can wash our hands of Jesus, by failing to acknowledge Him before others.
We can wash our hands of Jesus, by living in hypocrisy.
We can wash our hands of Jesus, by being unloving towards others.
We can wash our hands of Jesus, by not fulfilling the calling that He has placed on our lives.
We can wash our hands of Jesus when we engage in activities that we know are not in alignment with our faith
Ganged up on someone else, let them take the blame instead of us, vented our anger and aggression on an innocent victim. And all the while denying any responsibility for what we've done.
We have to hold our hands up to admit that the sin of Pilate is our sin too.
In fact, whenever I sin, I am reminded of that piercing sound of hammer and nail as I drive the spikes into my own Saviors wrists and feet.
How can God possibly forgive the sin of Pilate? How can God possibly forgive the sin we hold in our hands?
There is no explanation for God's forgiveness except in his absolutely unconditional love for every one of us. God loves us all, no strings attached.
Though blood is on our hands, God loves us.
Though we wash our hands to hide our sins, God loves us.
God's love is stronger than death. Though we turn away from God, God never turns away from us. Instead, Jesus wants to take our hands in his.
~ Fr. Joseph Alsay
Various Clergy and members of St. Augustine contribute to authoring the blog on a variety of topics.