It Rubs Off On Us

Be sure to bring an extra pair of coveralls tomorrow.  We’re going to the wheel factory.

The electrician made the suggestion to his apprentice as they parked the service van and headed home for the night.  The young man’s heart sank.

Wheel factory?  Tomorrow?  What a disaster! 

He had hoped for a day of residential service calls instead.  Those, he liked.  They kept your brain active, trying to crack the mystery of where a certain circuit ran, or why the washing machine shocked the owner when she touched it. 

He might even get to wait patiently by an outlet, watching a test meter as the electrician flipped breakers and clipped wires, trying to bring a dead circuit to life once again.  That was simple, clean work which gave you a good feeling when you left the house with a satisfied customer waving from the doorway. 

The wheel factory?  There was nothing worse!

I’ll attempt to paint you a picture, shall I? 

The factory looked like any other ordinary industrial facility.  Stacks of iron wheels and brake drums stood round, strapped to pallets and awaiting their turn to be moved—the finished ones by semi-truck to the distant factories which had ordered them—the unprocessed ones by forklift into the plant nearby.  There, they would be machined and drilled to the specifications which the tractor, automobile, and truck designers had determined. 

Before the men headed in, our apprentice and his boss pulled on their coveralls and changed shoes.  You’ll understand this a little better in a few moments.  Walking toward the plant, with a tool belt on his waist and a fiberglass ladder over his shoulder, the full effect of the nightmare which was about to begin was still not clear, and the young apprentice thought, perhaps this won’t be so bad after all. 

Ah! But, when the doorway was breached, and the vista of the huge building stretched out before him, the panic struck anew.

The first thing he noticed was the screech of the metal lathes pulsating and rising in pitch as each cut was made.  The noise was not only deafening, but to his ears (he liked to think, sensitive musician’s ears) it was horrific, jarring him to the core.  The din was almost painful—the perpetual squeal altering and dulling his other senses. 

After the initial shock of the noise, he noticed the thick ever-present smog hanging in the air.  Blue, oily smoke wafted up from every machine that cut and shaped and drilled, aided by the heat of the process and the liberal use of the viscous fluid to cool the cutting edges.  The huge fans at the end of the building dragged the thickening atmosphere across the length of the entire building before pulling it, square foot by sooty square foot, from the building.

He shuddered to think what the air would be like in this horrible place if the fans were not functioning, but still it seemed they only sucked the nasty stuff in never-ending  waves across anyone who was between the machines and the giant rotating fan blades.  He would soon be breathing in that vile mixture…and the eerie place was only to get worse.

The plant maintenance man saw them come in and motioned them over.  They followed him along rows of raw materials and machinery until he stopped beside one mammoth drill press.  Pointing to the oily, slimy monster, he shouted over the shriek of the nearby lathes and the high-pitched whine of the drill presses;

“This one!  It’s got to be rewired!” 

With that, he was gone.  As he disappeared into the maze of iron and machines, the apprentice looked down at his own hands.  He would swear that he hadn’t touched anything, but they were black with grime already.  He coughed with the stench of iron shavings mixed with oil and realized that his nightmare had already begun. 

Hours later, when he and the master electrician picked up their tools and ladders and headed out to the blessed quiet and clean air of the world outside, they were both covered from head to toe with the filth.  Their coveralls would take several cycles through the wash to come reasonably clean and they couldn’t wear their shoes anywhere until the soles were cleaned with de-greaser and solvents. 

The young man coughed up black junk from his chest for hours.  The headache would last longer than that.

Is the picture horrible enough for you?  Is there a point to this horror story? 

You know there is. 

What I’d like to be able to do is to draw the parallel between the filthy factory and the dirty places in the world we can get into.  We can’t rub shoulders with filthy people without some of it rubbing off on us.  The transfer of polluted substances is almost instantaneous. 

I’d like to be able to tell you that the moral of the story is that we should stay out of those places.  I want to suggest that we should never associate with those dirty people and places. 

What a simple solution!  To avoid getting dirty, stay away from filthy locations and grimy humans.

I’d like to be able to tell you that, but I would be wrong.  For too long though, it is just what we have done. 

We don’t drink, smoke, or chew; and we don’t go with girls that do

Our pride and our arrogance have led us to believe that if we can keep our clothes and our hands clean, nothing more is required of us. 

We live upright and impeccable lives and think we have achieved the goal. 

We couldn’t be further from the truth.

homeless-845752_1280Several times in my writing, I’ve mentioned the hugs I get from some of those dirty people.  My clothes stink until they are washed.  A customer who walked in my store immediately after one such episode actually wrinkled up her nose as I waited on her. 

Dirty rubs off on us.  It sticks and leaves evidence. 

The religious leaders in Jesus’ time thought so too, as they accused him of being a drunkard and a sinner.  He spent His time with people who needed baths and who needed medicine and who needed a Priest. 

The stench sticks to everyone in the vicinity.  

Mother Teresa ministered among the diseased and poor of Calcutta, India for decades.  I believe the love of Jesus shone through her life.  I wonder, do you imagine this little woman smelled good?  Do you think she was always spotless and clean?  You don’t live and minister in the filth of one of the poorest, dirtiest cities in the world and stay clean and fresh. 

Dirty rubs off on us.

Have you been in the vicinity of someone who is dirty recently?  I’m including the spiritually dirty, as well as the physically unclean.  It’s not necessarily a nice feeling, is it?  There was residue left on you—on your person and on your soul—was there not? 

Dirty rubs off on us.  

But, here’s the other thing we need to know. 

When we spend time with, and give of ourselves to, the kinds of people who need our attention—the poor, the lost ones, the souls who are wandering—we infect them too. 

This infection, you can’t smell and you can’t see. But we are promised there is a payoff. Promised.

God says that, without fail, His Word achieves its purpose (Isaiah 55:10-11), and also that as we give, we receive. (Luke 6:38

If we’re stingy and keep what we’ve been blessed with for ourselves, we’ll lose even that. (Luke 19:24)

Like the young electrical apprentice, we may hate the process.  It will involve pain, and filth, and discomfort.

We’ll also have the uninhibited joy, as we walk away, of knowing that we’ve accomplished exactly what you went for. 

The dirt—the stench—that ringing in our ears?  They will go away, but the joy will remain.

Dirty does indeed, rub off on us. 

But, the original cleanser still washes whiter than snow.



“Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full–pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.”
(Luke 6:38~NLT)


“If my baseball uniform doesn’t get dirty, I haven’t done anything in the baseball game.”
(Ricky Henderson~Former Major League Baseball left fielder)




© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.

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