The Parable of Dirty Underwear
The LORD said to me, “Remove your new loincloth and hide it in the river under a rock.” After many days the LORD said to me, “Retrieve the loincloth I commanded you to hide.” Now the loincloth was filthy, good for nothing. Then the Word of the LORD came to me: “Thus says the LORD: Just so I will ruin the great pride of Judah and Jerusalem. For as the loincloth clings to one’s loins, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me.” – Jeremiah 13:1-11 (abridged)
My first job was washing dishes at Richmond’s Restaurant in Cherry Hill, NJ. I quickly learned about “other duties as assigned,” which for the dishwasher included cleaning floors and toilets …before going back to washing dishes. Nothing too out of the ordinary.
Not so for the prophets of ancient Israel. You never knew what God would assign next. For Jeremiah, the duty du jour involved his own dirty underwear, so filthy you wouldn’t touch it with salad tongs.
What’s the point of this vivid sermon illustration? Basically this: God and Israel used to be tight, as close-fitting as a new pair of tighty-whities. But after many years of backsliding, idol worship, and chasing after lesser gods, the people soiled the relationship. And God was ready for a change.
Sure it’s awkward to imagine the Holy One in underwear. It’s no more seemly to picture Jeremiah, possibly naked, waving his dirty drawers in the faces of his kinfolk. But like the Lenten journey, our faith is mostly a journey of subtraction, paring down, letting go of our idols, and clinging to nothing but God.
God, there’s something I need to give up to be closer to you. I know what it is. You know what it is. Please give me the courage to let it go, one day at a time.
Matt Laney is the Senior Pastor of Virginia Highland Church UCC in Atlanta, GA and the author of Pride Wars, a fantasy series published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for Young Readers. The first two books, The Spinner Prince and The Four Guardians are available now.