Monday, 16 July 2012

The Theology of HAM (Bacon too)

 I promised Damian and Holly and the rest of the howling mob that I would write this one day. I'm pretty sure they thought it was an unmeetable challenge because how can you have a serious theological discussion about pork products? I assure you I can have a serious theological discussion about just about ANYTHING. So here it is. 

One of the obvious things about the Torah on even a quick read is that it really was impossible to avoid uncleanness. Normal everyday life made you unclean. You could be unclean without even knowing it and uncleanness could be an issue of many degrees of separation. Death, even as a part of life, was acknowledged as a major source of defilement (I have always felt the reason the priest and levite in Christ’s story of the Good Samaritan passed by the man who needed their help was a futile attempt to remain clean). 
We also see that God kept separating himself from the people lest they became “holy”. The holy things of the tabernacle ran the risk of sanctifying everything they touched and had to be protected. Always seemed odd to me that this was something to be avoided. However I think the stories in Numbers of what happens to people who encounter the holiness show why this was. They usually end up dead.  If the holiness of God makes things holy and clean, it must also destroy everything that is unclean, like bleach kills germs. What this meant for sinful people was that it killed them. So God remained separate even while dwelling amongst the people. Obvious allusions to Christ aside, the tent of meeting where Moses spoke to God was outside the camp.

Even with a safe distance between them, there were still stringent purity laws designed to protect the holiness of all involved. No one could enter the assembly with any sort of defect or blemish, and without carefully following a complex set of laws designed to keep them outwardly pure (and alive). Of course part of this were laws governing what could be eaten, touched or even indirectly come in contact with as “clean” food. As we know, the reason to this day Jews and Muslims don't eat pork is because it is not a clean food. And they are bound to avoid a host of other foods as well as blood in order to remain pure.

But we see a paradigm shift in cleanliness rules with the coming of Christ. Suddenly the holiness is spreading again, just like in the wilderness. Only this time it isn’t killing. It’s making alive. It’s healing and making whole. As we see in Torah, the dead defile everything they touch. We, without Christ, are The Dead. We can try to whitewash ourselves with ceremonial cleanliness, but in reality we are full of dead man’s bones. In Christ we are finally made alive. And it’s a life that is incorruptible, as he himself is.

Because of his powerful life and pervasive cleanness, nothing can make those who are in him unclean. As God, his cleanness overrides the uncleanness of incidental items, making Zechariah's words ring true: even horse collars and household cups are holy to the Lord and ceremonially clean. Christ made cleanness a matter of knowing the one who makes clean rather than eating the right thing--he taught that it was not what went into a man that made him unclean but what came out (what comes out of those who are in Christ but the power of the Holy Spirit?). And as Peter found out, we have no right to call unclean what God has made clean. That applies to pigs and people, death and life.

And when he commissioned his disciples, he told them to make disciples of all men. The walls that had been so carefully built in Torah were being exploded by the final consummation, life in Christ. There could be nothing to fear in going to all people and fellowshipping with them as brothers because the kingdom was no longer a matter of what one did or where one came from. Holiness was no longer an exercise in separation, but one of communion--with God himself and with one another.

But the condemnation of the law of purity still had to be dealt with--Christ took this on too and bore that condemnation on our behalf, taking the curses on himself that we might be blessed. This means that we are free from the crushing yoke of the law and able to live as sons. We no longer fear God's wrath over our eating of the wrong thing, for Christ took this in his body.

So eating ham is making a theological statement. It’s that we accept people of all tribes and tongues to fellowship in Christ. It’s that we now can do all things through him who strengthens us. And it’s that our Lord took all our uncleanness, made us clean and everything else clean for us. In giving his life, he made us finally alive to God. We don’t fear his presence or his displeasure any longer, for he is pleased with us in the Son. So we eat ham and proclaim the gospel. Especially bacon cause it tastes good.