Cleansing

After Jesus had spoken,
a Pharisee invited him to dine at his home.
He entered and reclined at table to eat.
The Pharisee was amazed to see
that he did not observe the prescribed washing before the meal.
The Lord said to him, “Oh you Pharisees!
Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish,
inside you are filled with plunder and evil.
You fools!
Did not the maker of the outside also make the inside?
But as to what is within, give alms,
and behold, everything will be clean for you.”
(Luke 11:37-41)  

Scripture Study

11:38 did not first wash: Jesus disregards Pharisaic customs of cleansing. These washing rituals were religious in nature, not hygienic. These religious customs were manufactured by the Pharisees and added to the Mosaic Law. Sometimes called the oral Law, this body of rituals was designed to supplement God’s written Law and intensify its requirements of ritual purity.

11:39 cleanse the outside: The religious zeal of the Pharisees focused on the exterior of the body and often failed to penetrate to the heart.[1]

Reflection

“Oh you Pharisees! Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish, inside you are filled with plunder and evil.”

In this passage (one of the most severe in the Gospel) Jesus determinedly unmasks the vice which was largely responsible for official Judaism’s rejection of his teaching—hypocrisy cloaked in legalism. There are many people who, under the guise of doing good, keeping the mere letter of the law, fail to keep its spirit; they close themselves to the love of God and neighbor; they harden their hearts and, though apparently very upright, turn others away from fervent pursuit of God—making virtue distasteful. Jesus’ criticism is vehement because they are worse than open enemies: against open enemies one can defend oneself, but these are enemies it is almost impossible to deal with.

It is not easy to work out what these verses mean. Probably our Lord is using the idea of cleaning the inside and outside of dishes to teach that a person’s heart is much more important than what appears on the surface—whereas the Pharisees got it the wrong way round, as so many people tend to do. Jesus is warning us not to be so concerned about “the outside” but rather to give importance to “the inside”. Applying this to the case of alms: we have to be generous with those things we are inclined to hoard; in other words, it is not enough just to give a little money (that could be a purely formal, external gesture); love is what we have to give others—love and understanding, refinement, respect for their freedom, deep concern for their spiritual and material welfare; this is something we cannot do unless our interior dispositions are right.

 

 

May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.

 

[1] Curtis Mitch, “Introduction to the Gospels,” in The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: The New Testament (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010), 131.
[2] Saint Luke’s Gospel, The Navarre Bible (Dublin; New York: Four Courts Press; Scepter Publishers, 2005), 118–119.