Reading: Luke 11.37-41
While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to dine with him; so he went in and took his place at the table. The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not first wash before dinner. Then the Lord said to him, ‘Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you.’
Yesterday we heard of Jesus inviting us to repent, that is turn around and follow the path God has laid for us to travel along. Jesus wrapped that invitation up in references to well-known figures from the Hebrew scriptures, that collection of writings we call the Old Testament. Today’s reading tells us of the ensuing exchange between Jesus and a Pharisee.
The Pharisees were those who studied and enforced the law, as revealed in Jewish scripture, to the ultimate degree. The Pharisees, throughout the gospel narrative, are at the forefront of those who criticize Jesus’ teaching of a new way of entering into a closer relationship with God. And yet, following his warnings and his references to Jonah and Solomon, Jesus is invited to dine with a Pharisee.
It is not made clear whether the Pharisee’s invitation had the ulterior motive of trapping Jesus in some sort of theological snare, or whether it was a spontaneous response to Jesus’ powerful words. Whatever the intention, the invitation was extended and accepted. But … old habits die hard. The Pharisee could not stop himself from criticizing Jesus for not observing one of the most basic Jewish rites of purification. Jesus, on entering the Pharisee’s home, did not wash before sitting at the table to eat.
Jesus would certainly have known of this ritual, and he would undoubtedly have observed it many times in his life. But, not on this occasion. At this meal he laid himself open to the critical gaze of the Pharisee.
It is at this moment that Jesus direct the searing light of God’s wisdom into the darkness through which he is travelling. Jesus warns against allowing outward signs of piety taking precedence over genuine faith in God. When Jesus speaks of ‘giving alms from within’, he is speaking of us setting aside the spectacle of religious faith and switching our attention to living the ‘real’ Christ life of love and service.
Therein lies our challenge for today … are we ready to set aside the show of religious piety and give ourselves as a free-will offering of Christian love?