Homily for October 11th, 2016: Luke 11:37-41.
Jesus is the guest of a Pharisee, a man who is careful to observe all the provisions of the Jewish law. Offered an opportunity to wash his hands before dinner, Jesus offends his host by brushing aside this Jewish custom. An act of rudeness? So it would seem. As the story unfolds we discover, however, the Jesus had a reason for what looks like an act of discourtesy. He wanted to show his host that mere external cleansing is useless if it is not accompanied by internal cleansing as well.
“Oh, you Pharisees!” He says. “Although you clean the outside of the cup and the dish, inside you are filled with plunder and evil.” What might this mean for us today? A possible modern parallel would be Catholics who are always careful to dress up for Sunday Mass: a suit and necktie for men; for women a nice dress; inside, however, unconfessed and hence unforgiven sins: cruelty, resentment, and hate; dishonesty, impurity, and pride. The Lord in his mercy has given us a remedy for such sins: the sacrament of penance or confession. Correctness in dress and outward behavior is important. Coming to the Lord’s Table as we would to a picnic or baseball game shows scant respect for our host. Yet inner and spiritual cleansing is even more important.
Now Jesus surprises us (as he does often). Rather than pointing to confession of sins, he speaks of something else: almsgiving. “But as to what is within, give alms, and behold everything will be clean for you.” Luke wrote his gospel for a partly Gentile community. Almsgiving hardly figured in the ancient pagan world of Jesus’ day. For Jews, however, it was important. The Jewish farmer and shepherd gave the firstfruits of field and flock to the Lord. He did so to express gratitude to the Lord who gives us all we are and have, sin excepted. Only when we are truly thankful to the Lord for all the blessings he showers upon us, so many more than we deserve on any strict accounting, are we truly in a right relationship with him. And we show our gratitude by sharing the Lord’s blessings with our brothers and sisters. Only then, Jesus tells us, will everything be clean for us.