The Parable of the Dirty Dishes


When it comes to chores, I think that no chore is more despised by kids than that of washing dishes. I know even myself growing up there was always that sigh after dinner; to know that while everyone else was doing the things that they wanted to do, I was going to get the pleasure of washing the dishes.

This was made more real to me as I have raised 3 kids to adulthood (and one still to get there) seeing their frustration, whining, complaining and in some cases; outright disobedience over washing the dishes.

However, of all the chores that a child might do, perhaps washing dishes is the one that teaches us to most about life, goals and accomplishment.

Detail Oriented

My father was a stickler for the details. Maybe it was the military, but in everything there just needed a touch of perfection to be approved. You haven’t lived until you have been thoroughly chewed out in proper military fashion for spots on dishes. But the thing that this revealed to me is the need to be detail oriented in all the things we do. We see this mindset from God in the very example of the Tabernacle. Every detail from the size, the curtains, the materials used, yes even down to the dishes used; we note how He is a God of details when it comes to the way that He wanted things to be.

Clean Inside and Out

I recall one time I observed my brother washing dishes. He was in a hurry and was only washing the outside of the glasses. Sure the soapy water was at least going into the glasses, but that wasn’t “washing them”. It didn’t take very long before the error of his ways to be revealed. It just took a coffee cup that just rinsing wasn’t going to get clean to get the flag raised on what was done. However, this time it wasn’t my father… it was Mom.

Can I get an AMEN from those who would say angering your father was bad, but getting Mom upset; was like the end of the world kinda bad?

Mom told us (Yes, I got the lecture too) that if the cup wasn’t clean inside and out, it’s not clean! Taking a shower doesn’t clean what is inside, she said. To be truly clean you need to clean the inside and out.

Jesus said something like this when He was making an example of the Pharisees:

Matthew 23:25 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.
26 Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.

It’s Not Done Until It’s Done Right

My parents had more sayings than a politician has excuses. Maybe it was a Kentucky thing because Grandma Adler had quite a few too. The one my father liked the most I think was: “How come there is never enough time to do it right, but there always seems to be enough time to do it over?”

While he said it a lot to our shame, the saying was sound. Whether doing dishes, taking out the trash, school work or, well, whatever we do; we should take the time to do it right.

This mindset lead to my life verse:

Ecclesiastes 9:10 Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.

Maybe my family’s sayings we’re just out of the Bible… the Brewer Family Version.

Not My will, but thine

Another important lesson learned from washing dishes is that the standard I needed to achieve was not my own. Meaning simply I didn’t decide when the job was done, or done right; but rather the one I was performing the task for. Naturally this life lesson leads to the attitude for employer/ employee relations, parenthood and even ministry. We see this reflected here:

Colossians 3:22 Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God:

23 And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;

The Parable of the Dirty Dishes

Perhaps the moment that sticks out most in my mind is when I was washing the dishes as a youth. As I was standing there at the sink alone with only the light above the sink on; I was having a little pity party. Slamming the plates, clanging the pots; I just didn’t feel it was fair that I always had to do the dishes.

My Mom came in and listened for a moment and then ask: “What is on that plate you are washing?” Dirt Mom, I rasped back. “More specific?” She ask in a soft tone that only a Mother knows how to give. “Dinner?” I queried. “Yes, dinner. Many tonight didn’t have dinner, didn’t have a home to have dinner in or a family to have dinner with. The fact that you get to wash dishes tonight means that you had dinner, in a home with parents; that worked very hard to provide for you and your brother.”

I have never washed a dish in the last 40+ years without remembering that soft tone, the care in her voice; or the parable of the dirty dishes.

Chaplain Rick Brewer