My husband came home with this bar of soap months ago and I was immediately captivated by what the label promises, for it’s a stain remover. According to the directions, you wet the bar, bring it to a lather, and then rub the soap directly on the stain. After washing, I imagine clothing will come out of the wash as white as snow… all traces of the dirt and the grime gone. And in contemplating this soap’s cleansing power, I’m not surprised that a play I watched (at least twenty-five years ago) surfaces to the forefront of my mind. The venue was Folger Theatre, the play was Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and the line that stuck with a fourteen year old girl… “Out, damned spot!”
Today, I have to wonder if Lady Macbeth would have profited from use of this bar’s cleansing agents. Do you remember her? She was the wife of Macbeth, a brave Scottish general. But unfortunately, Macbeth sought wisdom from three witches. They proclaimed that one day Macbeth would become King of Scotland. And so heady was the revelation, that Macbeth was overtaken by his ambition. His wife, Lady Macbeth, spurred him to action as she exhorted him to make it happen. And so, Macbeth killed King Duncan. He took the throne for himself. And so, naturally, both Macbeth and his wife were overwhelmed by a guilty conscience. Because trickery placed Macbeth in his kingly role, he ended up killing again and again so that he could keep his lofty position. And so, through this dark tragedy, we witness Macbeth and his Lady escalating to the heights of arrogance, falling into the depths of madness, and ultimately, their lives culminated in death.
Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene was a powerful display. See, her guilty conscience plagued her even in sleep, causing her to roam about through the night. The defilement from deep within her bubbled forth as she cried out during slumber… “Out, damned spot! Out, I say! One; two: why, then, ’tis time to do ‘t. Hell is murky! Fie, my lord, fie! A soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account? Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him? The Thane of Fife had a wife; where is she now? What! Will these hands ne’er be clean? Here’s the smell of the blood still; all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh! Oh! Oh!”
No, I don’t believe a bar of soap would have helped Lady Macbeth. For it wasn’t simply the issue of blood on her hands. Because that blood, that damned remaining spot that clung to her, was just a tangible display of what lie deep within. The issue was her heart, for that’s where her demise began. A seed was planted. A seed that promised loftiness and headiness. And as ambition grew, the roots of self-seeking went deeper. And then there was fruit. Lady Macbeth thought her family deserved to be in that role. Her husband was meant to be king and she was meant to be queen. And she was willing to do whatever it took to get there. And roots deeply entrenched in her heart bore the fruit of arrogance. And self-seeking. And lies. And deceit. And trickery. And ultimately, murder, which was conceived in her heart, became her reality. And the guilt consumed her.
No, I am not surprised that Lady Macbeth was brought to mind this morning. Because in reality, my heart bears the image of hers. For hate, which has clung to the outer recesses of my heart is, in truth, no different than murder. In God’s eyes, murder and hate are one and the same. It’s the way of Cain and the way of Esau. It is sin.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. Matthew 23:27
Journals. I read through fifteen of them last week and everything is in there. Again, and again, and again I saw the plague of my own heart. And when faced with the evidence (the handwriting on the wall so to speak), I just have to say, “Out, damned spot!” When I see in truth that which has stuck with me for at least three years (and in reality, so much longer), I just have to cry out, “Out, damned spot!” But it’s not Purex soap that will remove that spot. For soap will only clean the outside, making for a pretty appearance. And it appears that I’ve been doing that for so long… cleaning up my outside, with a plastered on smile, but neglecting the weightier, internal matters. I’ve been like a whitewashed tomb, whiting myself. Just like the Pharisees. They washed their hands and their cups, but their insides were black as night. As dark as death. Whitewashed tombs.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Psalm 51:7-12
No more. For I am dog tired and bone weary of the way I have been for so long. And you know what… this time I have hope. Real hope. Because last week was cathartic. It was cleansing. It was purifying. Last week was a time for me to address the real issue. I got down to the heart of the matter, for it’s a matter of the heart. And this morning, I knelt broken before Him. For I know my sin… and I know what I am. I am a sinner. But the hope is… I know who He is. And it is only through Him that I can be made clean. Only through Jesus Christ can I be made as white as snow. Without the soap. Because for the deeper, internal cleansing, we need His blood. His blood washes our hearts. And because of it, we can say, “Out, damned spot!” And with full assurance, we can know that He’ll remove that stain.
“What a sigh is there! The heart is sorely charged.
Do breed unnatural troubles;
infected minds to their deaf pillows will discharge their secrets;
More needs she the divine than the physician.
God, god forgive us all!
Look after her; Remove from her the means of all annoyance, and still keep eyes upon her.”
-Macbeth by William Shakespeare