Tuesday of week 28 of Ordinary Time – Gospel


Commentary on Luke 11:37-41

Jesus continues to highlight what is central to our relationship with God.  We skip over a short passage which is about various aspects of light.  In short, the Christian is to be a person full of light through and through.  Not like the kind of people Jesus now goes on to describe. He had been invited to dinner by a Pharisee.  Jesus apparently went straight into the dining area and reclined at the table prepared to eat.  The Pharisee was quite shocked because Jesus had not first washed his hands before eating. Of course, we are strongly recommended to wash our hands before sitting down to eat.  But here we are not dealing with a question of hygiene but of ritual washing.  Jesus had omitted to perform a religious ritual which was laid down by the stricter Jews, although not actually part of the Law. [The rule probably had originally a hygienic purpose.  By giving it a religious sanction one made sure that it was carried out.  Many other obligations, some of them contained in the Mosaic Law e.g. in Leviticus, seem to be of the same kind.]

Most probably, Jesus, in the ordinary course of events, would have had no problem about performing this ritual but it is likely that here he is deliberately making a point.  It allows him to draw attention to what he sees as false religion.  A person’s virtue is not to be judged by his performance or non-performance of an external rite. As Jesus tells this man in a graphic image, the Pharisees concentrate on making sure that the outside of the cup is clean while inside it is full of all kinds of depravity and corruption (like the judgmental thoughts in this man’s mind and the sinister plotting that the Pharisees in general were directing against Jesus).  God is as much, if not much more, concerned about the inside as the outside. Instead, Jesus suggests that they give alms to the poor and, when the inside is clean, there is no need to worry about the outside.  Giving alms is a positive act of kindness to another person; it is an act of love and compassion.  It neutralises the greed and rapacity of which he accuses them.  It is not, like the washing of hands, a purely empty ritual which says little and is almost totally self-directed. It is so easy to judge people, including our fellow-Catholics, by their observance or non-observance of certain Christian customs, which of themselves are of a non-moral nature.  In the past, for instance, we might have criticised a woman for not wearing a hat in church or a priest for appearing without his Roman collar.  Today, we might find ourselves scandalised because someone goes to communion having had a huge meal well within the designated one hour of fasting or even for eating meat on Friday, even though the ‘law’ does not require it.  (Most of the passages in the Gospel attacking Pharisees are really directed against Pharisees in our Christian communities, not to mention the Pharisee in our own hearts.)

Elsewhere, Jesus has told us not to judge because it is very difficult for us to know what is going on within another person’s mind.  (Like a former professor of mine, who as a young man, many years ago, was seen going into a shop to buy a packet of condoms.  He actually wanted them to keep the rain off the spark plugs on his ancient motorbike!) What Jesus is really emphasising here is the inner spirit and motivation.  Once that is right, everything else will be taken care of.

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