Although most of the many people who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, "May the LORD, who is good, pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God - the LORD, the God of his fathers - even if he is not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary." And the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people. -2 Chronicles 30:18-20
I read this passage during my daily Bible reading today (Thank you, Richie!), and this verse got me to thinking. It is story of the celebration of the Passover by Hezekiah. In fact, it was the first mass celebration of the Passover in quite some time. What is interesting to note is that Hezekiah had sent out couriers to the the whole nation of Israel, including the northern kingdom, inviting them to come celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem. These Israelites from the northern kingdom were the ceremonially unclean referenced in the above passage. Hezekiah does not stop them from participating until they are clean, because there hearts were seeking after God, but rather prays that the LORD will accept them as is, and the LORD hears Hezekiah's prayer.
What got me thinking was the similarities between this story and several passages in the New Testament. The first is the parable of the wedding banquet. The father is throwing a big party for his son, who is getting married, but none of the bigwigs will come. So the father goes to the street corners and allyways and brings all the dirty, lower class people to the party, where he gives them clean robes to wear. What is relevant in this instance, is that the people were dirty when they came, but that the father (God) cleaned them up after they came. The same happens with Hezekiah. The people come unclean, but the LORD sanctifies them after they come.
This is also the debate that the apostles struggled with. Must the Gentiles become Jews (or "cleaned up") before they could become Christians? God's answer, as given through the story of Peter and Cornelious, is NO! It is Christ's blood that washes us clean after we come to the cross. Do we, as the church, still struggle with this today? Do we expect people to clean up their act somewhat before they enter our doors? Do we simply encourage all who wish to seek God and worship him to come on in, as Hezekiah did? Do we remember that it is Christ who sanctifies, not obedience to the Law or rules? I believe a good example of this is with a homosexual. The point is not to get him to leave his homosexuality, but to bring him to salvation. God will then clean him up (or not, which raises the question of how we deal with those who don't seem to be leaving their sin as quickly as we feel they should). In other words, we are not to become "clean" in order to seek God; we are to seek God, welcome all others who do, and leave the cleaning up to God.