I first visited the Holy Land 25 years ago, when I went with my parish on a pilgrimage. It was during the month of May, and the most memorable day was when we got up early, and drove north from Jerusalem, through the West Bank and up through the Galilee, and even further north. By now the land was becoming more mountainous, and as we climbed, I remember the countryside started to change and look Alpine, very green, covered with beautiful flowers. And then suddenly, in the distance we caught sight of Mount Hermon, shimmering in the sun.
When I was growing up I remember really liking my Uncle Michael – we used to call him Uncle Mickey. I didn’t get to see him very often, but I so looked forward to his visits. I only found out much later why he didn’t come to visit us more. He felt ashamed, he thought we wouldn’t want to see him, he believed he wasn’t worth seeing. You could say he felt “unclean.”
The notion of uncleanness was a very important one in ancient Jewish culture, and it was applied to both food and people. Reasons for such laws included, for example, concerns over hygiene or the creation of a unique Jewish identity. Originally, they were never meant to indicate a person’s state of sin or social worth, but by the time of Jesus being pronounced “unclean” could put you in the category of moral failure and social outcast.