After witnessing the epic winter weather across the United States and two recent snow events here in North Carolina, I have meditated upon the words of Psalm 51:7. The Psalmist writes, “Purge me with hyssop; and I shall be made clean, wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” For Christians, there is an obvious allusion within those words to Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and resurrection. However, it is helpful to remember, these are not Jesus’ words. In the opening chapter of Isaiah, the Lord says (in an appeal to the reason of the Israelite people), he has a desire to prevent the further destruction of Israel. “Though your sins are like scarlet,” says God, “they will be white as snow. If they are as red as crimson, they will become like wool. If you agree and obey.” Context matters. This passage has nothing to do with the salvation of humanity or Jesus of Nazareth. It does have everything to do with the imminent deportation with the Israelite nation to Babylon. God will square them with Babylon; not their sins with the cosmos. That’s not the issue.
Jesus never uses the word “snow”. The word was used to describe his apparel at his ascension in Matthew’s gospel. John recycles Isaiah’s prophecy and adapts it to early Christian apocalyptic thought in the Book of Revelation. That’s the sum total of snow in the New Testament. Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, made no mention of our bloody sins being washed away. Shedding and washing are two completely different words in New Testament Greek. Washing sounds folksy and like something you can imagine your grandmother doing. Someone “shedding” blood sounds like a man who was taken out to a Roman Imperial black site and executed on political charges. As a result, if Jesus never talked about our sins becoming as white as snow (as a result of his sacrificial shedding of blood). So why do we keep pushing this image? Is it because of the sanguine obsessions of late 19th century hymn writers? Because it’s not in the New Testament. It’s not something attributable to Jesus of Nazareth. Call me crazy, but I put a priority on doing things Jesus did, not stuff we make up and then later pretend he did or said.
I don’t want to be washed white as fresh snow. I don’t think Jesus wants me washed as white as the wind driven snow on a George Winston CD cover. Jesus needs me dirty, tarnished, muddy, and filthy. Because this is who Jesus has called me to serve, love, and live among. The people who can’t go inside, make chili, post pictures on Facebook, haven’t showered in days, have no one to love them, can’t afford their Lorazepam, the people who are broken and no one wants to sully themselves by stopping to look at the dirty mess by the side of the road. Because if you’re looking at them, how can you praise God for all the great things God has done for you, how blessed you’ve been, and how grateful you are that you are clean.
Lord, I beg you. Keep me dirty and muddy and free from unsound scriptural metaphors about snow. I need my sins to make me a better Christian.