29 May 2011

Purging vs. Purification

One of the things about Utah Valley that I struggle with more than almost anything else is how easy it is for people to be sheltered. This became all too clear to me (again) this last weekend while driving students home from the symphony. Several students in the back of the car started talking about how before taking my class they didn't know that there was such a thing as other religions.

A friend of mine told me about a conversation he had with students who believed quite literally that there are people in the world who are not good enough to be with them. (Seriously).

I grew up in an environment that was much more openly diverse. We had to learn quickly that if we were going to have friends, we would need to see beyond the difference and to the parts of that person that made them good.

I was reminded again of this lesson today in Sunday School when studying the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19. Zacchaeus was the Chief Publican - a supervising tax collector, if you will, who was very likely excommunicated from the church by the rest of the Jews because of his profession. In the story, Zacchaeus, who must have been rather short, hears that Jesus is coming and climbs a tree to catch sight of him. Jesus sees him, tells him to come down, and says that he would like to stay in Zacchaeus' house while he is in the city. The Jews that are with the Savior are confused by this - why would Jesus want to stay in the home of a sinner? Well, for one simple reason: Jesus is a purifier, not a purger.

Zacchaeus, though a Publican, is not wicked. In verse eight Zacchaeus tells Jesus that he gives away half of his belongings to the poor and if he makes any mistakes in his tax collection he returns the money plus four times extra for the inconvenience. He is a man with a strange choice of career in the community, perhaps, but Jesus isn't interested in what he has done wrong, he is interested in what he can become.

The teacher pointed out that there is a difference between purging and purifying. Although both words come from similar roots and are often used synonymously, there is a big difference. To purge something is to focus on getting rid of the bad. For example, when you have the flu, the entirety of your body seems to focus more on getting rid of what is bad than on supporting that which is good. When you purify something, your focus is on seeking out the good so that you can enhance it. The best example probably comes in refining gold, which is heated to a very high temperature. The layers of dross are pulled away until the metal is free of impurities. The focus is on the result, not the cause.

Essentially, purging and purifying accomplish the same thing. But the focus is the important part. When we deal with people (or books, or movies, or new experiences, or food, or. . .) so focussed on getting rid of the bad that we don't have time to focus on the good, or are we so focused on enhancing the good that we find that the impurities have separated out of their own accord because they no longer belong?

It's all about perspective.


Heidi said...

I'm honestly appalled that you know people like this. I'm a born-and-bred Utahan, and a Mormon, and I NEVER got this from my parents or from church. Ever. Well, maybe there were a couple of people in my ward who were this weird, but it definitely wasn't in my family. I guess I just always knew people are different and that's ok.

Me said...


It IS a bit sad, isn't it? These students come from the most southern part of Utah Valley, though, and generally from families that homeschool out of fear for the big wide world out there. I don't think this attitude spreads all over Utah by any means. It certainly shocked me, though!