Do I Have A Bloody Nose?
“We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
“Do I have a bloody nose?” “Bror, quit saying that.” She responded.
I really didn’t know what Anne found so offensive about my question. I had been playing Rugby during PE. It was a game I didn’t know anything about, but the rest of my classmates, the sons of British and Afrikaner employees at the Debeer’s mine there in Jwaneng, Botswana did. The thin carpet of green provided no padding against the red clay baked hard by the Kalahari sun when my head hit face first. The coach gave me a short examination and after figuring a minor concussion was nothing to worry me about, he had me go stand and watch the game from the sidelines. Anne was there, I would often walk her home before continuing on to the trailer park where we lived while waiting for the church and parsonage to be built. It was the first grade, and I could be a little slow to pick up on dialectical nuances.
I really wanted to know, however, so I asked the horrified Anne once again, “Do I have a bloody nose? Just tell me.”
She wouldn’t answer. I had no idea what the problem was. I just wanted to know if my nose was bleeding. As a first grader and an American, there was nothing offensive about a bloody nose. You just had to do something to stop the bleeding, and I was fairly sure my nose should be bleeding if it wasn’t. The concepts of sanitary napkins, and menstrual cycles weren’t anything I knew about. I certainly did not associate them with “bloody.” It would be a while before I would figure out why it was such an offensive thing to ask. I suppose I could have just asked Anne whether or not my nose was bleeding. Then again, there was something funny about Anne’s horrified expression, so I asked a few more times. “Do I have a bloody nose?”
Bloody noses and polluted garments. I guess I have always found those phrases which are totally offensive in one setting and totally benign in another somewhat funny. Yet I am not always sure how I feel about hygiene, filth and sanitation present in Scripture, especially when it is supposed to be offensive, such as in Isaiah 64. “We have all become unclean, and our righteous deeds are like bloody rags.” Now there is an offense.
A plumber friend of mine once became famous because of a bloody rag. It didn’t take long before the story circulated through the 31st Civil Engineers at Aviano Airbase. My friend was called to go fix a clogged toilet and fainted when a used Kotex surfaced. He had a nice goose egg where his noggin met the porcelain. I’ve long pondered that a person could have such a visceral reaction to something like that, especially in a squadron that drank grappa for breakfast. It is as if such an offense is a primal reaction to some sort of Jungian archetype.
This is what Isaiah is getting at. Women were considered unclean during their menstrual cycles. They weren’t supposed to mingle with the general public during that time. Whatever they touched also became unclean. The Scriptures continually play on this theme. Rachel’s pagan father, Laban, was kept from finding his stolen idols when Rachel told him the “way of women” was with her. In the Gospel narratives, an unclean woman touches Christ’s robe without permission. If she had touched any other man, he would have been declared unclean himself. He would not have been allowed in the synagogue until he had purified himself, and visiting the Temple would have been completely out of the question. But with Christ, the opposite takes place. Jesus declares the woman both sanctified and clean. She is healed. She touched the Temple and the Temple cleansed her. And so it is with us and our, “righteous deeds.”
Our Offensive Righteousness
This is an odd thing. Our righteous deeds are like bloody rags. One could not conceive of a more unsanctified thing in Isaiah’s day. Yet even then, people sought to sanctify themselves, cleanse themselves, make themselves holy and righteous in the eyes of God with their “righteous deeds.” The problem was they themselves were unclean, and whatever they touched then became unclean including their righteous deeds.
“If someone carries holy meat in the fold of his garment and touches with his fold bread or stew or wine or oil or any kind of food, does it become holy?’” The priests answered and said, “No.” Then Haggai said, “If someone who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?” The priests answered and said, “It does become unclean.” Then Haggai answered and said, “So is it with this people, and with this nation before me, declares the LORD, and so with every work of their hands. And what they offer there is unclean.” (Haggai 2:12-14)
This is the futility of looking to works for sanctification, for holiness or for righteousness. Outside the blood of Christ all our works are nothing but bloody rags. They don’t sanctify us, if anything they make us unclean. They need to be purified and sanctified by the blood of Christ themselves. They are as offensive to God as the Jungian archetype floating in the bowl is to a plumber with a queasy stomach upset by grappa.
Yet, just as the woman who touched Christ’s robe was sanctified, cleansed and healed by Christ, so it is that when we consume the holy meat, the sacrifice of Christ on the cross made once and for all, we are made clean. We are sanctified. We are healed and our righteous deeds are made holy in the eyes of God. Here it is that Christ creates in us a clean heart that can cling to the hem of His garment with the pure faith of an unclean sinner. Then we can go about the work God has given us to do in this unclean world without fear, and full of pride, boasting in the Lord who even sanctifies bloody rags.
Rev. Bror Erickson serves as pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in Farmington, New Mexico. He graduated from Concordia University Irvine in 2000 where he studied apologetics under Dr. Rosenbladt, and Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Indiana in 2004. He likes to translate the works of Bo Giertz and Hermann Sasse. He also enjoys writing reviews for Amazon.com and critiquing modern culture with the Gospel.
Bo Giertz wrote this book drawing upon the exegetical insights that he received from his mentor Anton Fridrichsen before, during and after his trip to Palestine in the early 1930's. The book is a third-person retelling of the Gospels that brings into account various Old Testament references and the contemporary interpretations of those passages by the Jews of Jesus' day as well as contemporary events throughout the Roman Empire,