Sermon for Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Bethany Convent, Order of Saint Anne, Arlington, MA
“The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not wash before dinner.”
Washing and making sure that things are clean has been very much in the news lately, given the Ebola outbreak. We’ve probably all seen the photos of medical personnel in body suits and read about how disinfecting procedures have to be done just so, lest the virus spread further.
For the Pharisees in first-century Palestine, failing to wash properly before dinner (as Jesus did) would probably not lead to contracting a life-threatening disease, but the Pharisees nonetheless saw Jesus’ failure to wash before dinner as a critical breach. Uncleanliness was a serious matter in their circles, and Jesus could potentially “contaminate” all of them by his failure to “disinfect.”
In today’s gospel Jesus turns the tables on the Pharisees, reminding them that it is not outward cleanliness that matters, but inward: “You clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness!” “Look,” Jesus says in effect, “It’s not ritual purity that matters so much as purity of heart.” “If you are pure inside,” Jesus says, “everything will be clean for you.”
I’m struck by what Jesus says will lead to inner purity: “Give alms for those things that are within,” Jesus says. “Give of yourselves on behalf of others. Help others in their need. That’s what will make you clean inside.”
I find that there is something about giving and self-offering and generosity that feels purifying; it feels good when I do something for others or when I am generous.
I don’t know about you, but today’s gospel reading is reminding me to keep giving of myself for others; and I’m going to ask for the grace to keep doing it. Who knows, but perhaps the inner “purity” that giving generates will gradually spread to others and I – and we – can become agents to counter the spread of greed and wickedness, and instead spread the generosity of Jesus.