The Gospels tell us a lot of things about Jesus' life. He's born of a virgin, a performer of miracles, set apart, sinless and holy. But I think one of the most compelling things we learn about Jesus is not that he's pure, but in that purity he's not afraid to get dirty.
I say that not in the metaphysical, super-spiritual sense that he left his pristine home in heaven to descend to the lowly earth. I mean that Jesus even goes beyond this. He dives into this ocean of sin and death and heads straight for the bottom-feeders.
In Luke, Jesus talks about how the Pharisees wouldn't be satisfied with John the Baptist's behavior, nor would they accept his own. John abstained from food and drink, and he was said to have a demon. Jesus ate and drank, and he was called a glutton and an alcoholic. The Pharisees wanted to distance themselves from both, because they didn't know which was right.
I fear that Christians do the same thing sometimes. In our efforts to "save our witness," we forget to minister to the people who actually need it. We're like doctors with tourniquets and gauze, watching an injured person bleed to death because we don't want to risk infection or get bacteria on our instruments.
Jesus hung out with tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners and the lowest of the low. Am I advocating that you head down to the nearest street corner and get a new posse? Not necessarily. But I am saying that we should not let our fear of filth keep us out of the trenches. No one ever heard of a good soldier shying away from dirt and grime. No one respects a baseball player who won't dive for the ball because he doesn't want grass stains.
If we're secure in our righteousness, like Jesus was, we don't have to ask permission to share it with others. Like the Pharisees, those who judge are probably not in a position to receive the self-effacing message of Jesus. So why try to please them? And why waste your time on folks who think they're healthy when sick patients are calling for your help?
Situations must be judged with a spirit-led conscience, and we need to be shrewd about the positions we put ourselves in. I would venture to say that most of us don't have Jesus' discipline, so it's not smart to charge toward a sinful environment where we can't handle the pressure.
But get the point of what I'm saying: Without decay, the salt is for nothing. Without darkness the light is for nothing. Why have an antidote if you can't go where the poison has taken root? Let's not quarantine ourselves from the world. If we do, we might live more satisfied with ourselves. But it's God who will judge our impact on the world. Sometimes he'd rather see us in the trenches than dwelling safely in self-built palaces.