And as he spoke, a certain Pharisee asked him to dine with him. So he went in and sat down to eat. When the Pharisee saw it, he marveled that he had not first washed before dinner. Then the Lord said to him, ‘Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness. Foolish ones! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But rather give alms of such things as you have; then indeed all things are clean to you.’” (Lk 11: 37-41)

In the oral tradition of the Pharisees, an elaborate series of ablutions, accompanied with special prayers, was required before sitting down for the main meal of the day. The original reason for this was cleanliness, because no forks or spoons were used at the meal, and everyone used his/her hands to reach into the common dishes of food. But the Pharisees had ritualized and elevated the meaning of such “washing/bathing” to something indispensable for true “Orthodoxy,” or good religious standing. Our Lord challenges this view, by disregarding the Pharisaic custom and provoking the self-righteous indignation of His host. As Christ points out, what makes “all things clean” for us, also our food, as we do our best to lead God-focused lives, is love for our neighbors and a self-offering heart, which “gives alms of such things as we have.” What the Pharisee displays here, however, is quite a different thing. He has a sharp radar for the perceived “missteps” of others, while neglecting the issues of his own, judgmental heart, which happens to be “out of step” with a merciful, Self-offering God.

Today let me put first things first, and surrender to God’s grace in my heart. I take down a notch my merely-human demands and expectations, and let God do His thing in my day. “Come and abide in us,” Lord, “and cleanse us from every impurity, and save our souls, O Good One!”

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