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A Prayer and Fasting Devotional

Thus says the LORD of hosts: “‘Ask the priests about the law: ‘If someone carries holy meat in the fold of the 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 it is with this people…” –Haggai 2:11-14a

And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.”  So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully.  And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”  And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor.  And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” –Luke 19:5-8

Unholiness is contagious.  When God calls His people, Israel, out of their own slavery into relationship, it is with a repeated insistence on holiness.   Why?  Because their God, Yahweh, is completely holy; set apart.  Israel was to be a nation taken out from the other nations for God’s purposes.  No wonder Leviticus is necessary!  An entire book of the Bible devoted to often excruciating detail about maintaining dwellings and bodies prone to embarrassing levels of outward uncleanliness.  And so, our Israelite ancestors were deliberate in their daily routines to keep themselves away from the unclean, the unholy.  In so doing, they were guarding a space: an earthly place for a visitation and a dwelling place for the Holy God.  The Other, the One who dwelt in the Holy of Holies, could not--cannot--abide the unclean and unholy.  It was in the job description of Israel’s priests to make determinations about the clean and unclean, holy and unholy.  The priests, Haggai writes, knew better than anyone the fragility of holiness and the persistent contagion of the unholy.  And Israel was a perfect case study.

And then Christ appears.  God is with us, the Kingdom is here and near, and the whole earth is on its way to becoming the Holy of Holies.  One day, that surprising Savior boldly invites Himself to the home of a defiled Israelite, a tax collector, a “sinner.”  Zacchaeus is unclean and unholy.  He has aligned himself with unholy Rome; he is thieving and greedy in his business practices.  His own countrymen are disgusted by him and refuse to associate with him.  What are we to think of Jesus’ invitation to Zacchaeus?  Unholy ones, take heart.  The Holy One is here, and He invites Himself to dwell with the tainted sinner.  In Jesus, holiness is the new contagion.

So, as we fast and pray, may we do it in the confidence of an invitation from the Holy One and in the hope of extending that invitation to others.  

Teal McGarvey
Ministry Fellow at Harvard
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