Life at Work
In 1818, when Ignaz Phillip Semmelweis was born the finest hospitals lost one out of six young mothers to the scourge of "Childbed fever." A doctor's daily routine began in the dissecting room where he performed autopsies. As the doctor left that room to move to the rooms of his patients, including expectant mothers, he never stopped at a sink to wash his hands. Dr. Semmelweis was the first man in history to make the connection between unwashed hands and the infection that led to death from “Childbed Fever.” Semmelweis did begin to wash his hand with a chlorine solution, and after eleven years and the delivery of 8,537 babies, he lost only 184 mothers - about one in fifty. He spent much of his time and energy debating with his colleagues. Once he argued, "Puerperal fever is caused by decomposed material conveyed to a wound....I have shown how it can be prevented. I have proved all that I have said. But while we talk, talk, talk, gentlemen, women are dying. I am not asking anything world shaking. I am asking you only to wash....For God's sake, wash your hands." Bruce Mouton vividly described the response of his Semmelweis’ contemporaries and the consequence: “Virtually no one believed him. Doctors and midwives had been delivering babies for thousands of years without washing, and no outspoken Hungarian was going to change them now! Semmelweis died insane at the age of 47, his wash basins discarded, his colleagues laughing in his face, and the death rattle of a thousand women ringing in his ears.”
When David realized the wickedness that had been a major part of his life ever since he saw Bathsheba on her rooftop, he wept as he wrote, “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin” (Psalm 51:2). “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (vs. 7). Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (vs. 10) “Wash me!” was the anguished prayer of King David.
In the New Testament, being washed clean of sin is a wonderful theme. Paul moved the Corinthians to refuse to return to sinful living by reminding them of their spiritual past: “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” 1 Cor. 6:11). He wrote to Titus about the kindness of God:
“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior…” (Titus 3:3-6).
Without being washed clean, in a much worse way than the women who died by the touch of unclean hands, we all die from the contamination of sin. Paul was in the same filthy condition as David - and us - when he heard the words, “What are waiting for? Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” What are you waiting for? For God’s sake, wash! That’s Life at Work!