We cannot know Jesus without going to those who are in poverty. He himself said so (Matthew 25:31-46). I reached into the large black garbage can filled with dirty clothes. I was sorting the clothes cast off by guests who took showers at Manna House this morning. Doing the Manna House laundry means touching the clothing of those who are in poverty. The laundry teaches.
I pulled out what I thought was a sweatshirt. But beneath the sweatshirt were four additional layers of clothing: a t-shirt, a long-sleeve t-shirt, a long sleeve dress shirt, and another t-shirt. Five layers of clothing against the cold; still probably not enough. When you do not have a warm house in which to spend the night (and the day), or even a shelter, you make do with what you can get. Five layers of clothing. The laundry teaches about being cold on the streets.
I pulled out socks and more socks. None of them were salvageable. The dirt was too deeply ground in and solidified with old sweat. Underwear, the same story. The dirt is engrained into the very fabric. No amount of bleach or soap will get it out. A sign of the perversion of the Gospel is to believe that cleanliness is next to godliness. To believe that those who are dirty are of the devil is to believe the lepers of old were unclean and were rejected by God. Jesus took a different approach. The lepers deserved welcome and healing, not rejection and damnation. Those who rejected the lepers in the name of God were the very ones who were far from God. The laundry teaches about dirt and poverty and about who we reject by our conventional standards but who God embraces.
I pulled out pants, mostly blue jeans, and a few khakis. They were wrinkled, and in various states of weariness. A few holes here and there. Random stains on some. Mostly just dirty. They tell of sleeping on the ground or in an abandoned building or under a bridge. Psalm 113 comes to mind,
Who is like the Lord our God,
who is seated on high,
who looks far down
on the heavens and the earth?
God raises the poor from the dust,
and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes,
with the princes of God’s people.
The laundry teaches about those in the dust and on the ash heap and about where God intends them to be contrary to where society has cast them.
I pulled out towels, damp from wiping dry freshly showered bodies. I remember a Gospel story (John 13:1-17). Jesus “got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.” When Jesus came to Peter, he did not want Jesus to wash his feet. Such a task was reserved for the lowest of the low, for slaves. Jesus would be dishonored by doing such work. Jesus answered Peter, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” What does this mean? What does it mean to be washed by Jesus?
Jesus himself tells us. “if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. … If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” The laundry teaches about how to experience blessing.
The laundry teaches, if we are willing to learn.