August 8: Another man with dirty hands and clean heart.

handwash

I’ve just been scrubbing my hands after a spot of bicycle maintenance; that and the story of the classic car enthusiast removing every speck of grime from his hands to attend an ordination reminded me of another tale that I heard on the radio a few years ago, before the days of ubiquitous thin rubber gloves.

An Anglican priest, non-stipendiary, meaning he earned his living at another job, as Saint Paul did, was the speaker. I don’t know what his other job was, but it involved getting his hands dirty, the sort of dirt that lodges in the fingerprint whorls and cracks and resists the scrubbing brush. Printer’s ink maybe?

Every Saturday evening this good man would hold his hands in a strong solution of bleach until the residual grime disappeared, ready for Sunday Eucharist. However the result was not good news for his skin.

As I recall the story, his wife intervened, concerned for his health. His hands, she told him, were clean enough to eat with, despite the last ingrained stains, and he was preparing to celebrate the Lord’s Last Supper, a meal with God’s people in his parish; people who knew about his work. They would not be put off by unwashoffable dirt, nor would they expect their priest to contract dermatitis in order to lead them in worship.

He stopped using the bleach. The congregation did not stop coming to Sunday Eucharist. Surely Jesus chose fishermen and a tentmaker as his ministers, but he also chose a man with very dirty hands, the extortionate tax-collector, the future Saint Matthew.

 

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