This gospel passage is a little difficult to interpret. Jesus has been invited to this Pharisee’s house for dinner and right away there’s tension. When Jesus doesn’t observe the ablution rituals prescribed by the law, his host is shocked. While it seems a small enough matter, it escalates into something far more serious.
Jesus erupts in anger at being judged by this man. “You cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but within you are filled with rapaciousness”. Rapaciousness: insatiable greed. Them’s fightin’ words!
But what does washing of utensils have to do with greed? I don’t really know – and even Scripture scholars seem confused with this juxtaposition. Nevertheless, we know that the Pharisees were notorious for their strict observance of the law. A person’s motives for observing the law meant far less to them. Jesus rightly calls them “Fools” for being so concerned about external observances and ignoring those things that go on deep down inside a person. Today’s first reading reiterates that those same kind of superficially religious people “claimed to be wise, but turned into fools instead”.
Still Jesus doesn’t write them off entirely. “If you give what you have as alms, all will be wiped clean for you”. Rather enigmatically, but very forthrightly, he offers the hope that even the most legalistic practitioner of religion can have the slate ‘wiped clean’ if he helps the poor.
Whatever the subtle nuances of this gospel passage may suggest, it is certainly not condoning mediocrity. We’re being called to higher things – to follow the example and be imitators of Paul who never submits to the yoke of slavery – especially the slavery of doing things merely for show. “In Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love”
So for us today, let us strive to live by faith. And let us pray: Please God, in all that we say and do, let faith be what motivates us and stirs us deep down inside.
- Fr. Damian Towey, CP is a member of the community at Our Lady of Florida Spiritual Center,North Palm Beach,Florida.