For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.
under the old system of the law, the jews had been instructed that dirty things went “outside the camp”. lepers had to live outside the camp, those “unclean” in any way had to live outside the camp, and sin offerings had to be done outside the camp. outside the camp was not somewhere you wanted to be, clearly.
yet Jesus seemed to spend a lot of his time outside the camp- especially for someone who did not have leprosy, and was never unclean or in need of conducting a sin offering. he healed lepers and people who had lost their minds. he ate with sinners and prostitutes. and then… he died a criminal’s death. a death outside the camp, as the scripture in hebrews puts it. he went outside the camp so that we could, once and for all, live inside of it.
but, it appears, he doesn’t want us to stay inside the camp.
yes, the blood of Jesus has cleansed us from our sins, allowing us to metaphorically go back inside the camp. but here in hebrews, we are told to go back out. we are not told to sit in our happy christian bubble inside the camp and take advantage of the grace we have been given without going to share it. and sharing it is promised to not be pretty. we are to “bear the reproach he bore”. even being seen outside the camp can be worthy of reproach in some circles.
there are millions of people in the world today who are “outside the camp”. some of them are the people we avoid making eye contact with and hold our purses a little tighter around as we head to the park. some of them are sick and dying. some of them are children. some of them live in africa. some of them live just down the street, or maybe even in your same house. many of them aren’t people who we want to spend time with.
in isaiah 58:5-7, isaiah writes:
“Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance: that a man bow his head like a reed, and lie in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.”
i wish i could say i spent most of my time outside the camp, but i know i don’t. and when i do, i am rarely motivated by a love for those i am serving or because i see the face of Jesus in their face, but rather from pride or selfishness. in conclusion, this summer i was presented with a powerful poem that was published by john stott and written by a homeless woman. the poem is a fairly accurate representation of what i think others see of the american church’s efforts “outside the camp”.
I was hungry,
and you formed a humanities group to discuss my hunger.
I was imprisoned,
and you crept off quietly to your chapel and prayed for my release.
I was naked,
and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance.
I was sick,
and you knelt and thanked God for your health.
I was homeless,
and you preached to me of the spiritual shelter of the love of God.
I was lonely,
and you left me alone to pray for me.
You seem so holy, so close to God
but I am still very hungry-and lonely-and cold.
may you find yourself outside the camp this week. seek the city that is to come.