Fr. John Denburger, OCSO
28th Tuesday in Ordinary Time
Romans 1: 16 – 25; Ps 19; Luke 11: 37 – 41
It was at the Last Supper, in a response to Thomas, that Jesus proclaimed, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life!” (John 14: 6) Anyone of us can speak the truth but only the Lord Jesus is Truth Himself. In the house of the Pharisee, the host presses Jesus on His failure to perform the necessary ablutions before eating. Obviously, the Pharisee is scandalized and needs to correct Jesus.
I’m sure the “amazed” Pharisee did not know where to look or to run, because Jesus, the living Truth, never one to be worried about political correctness, called him and his fellow Pharisee to task about their observances, about too much emphasis or, perhaps, total emphasis on the externals while their hearts are filled with plunder and evil – strong words, strong accusations.
Nowhere does Jesus condemn the observance rather it is the heart, the motive of the man that comes under a severe scrutiny. The Lord is not impressed by the observance whatever it may be nor is God honored if the heart of the individual is filled with evil. There is a very pointed passage in the Book of Isaiah where God says to Israel: “When you spread out your hands, I will close My eyes to you; though you pray the more, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood.” (Is 1: 15)
We are people of observances, of rituals – participating in a most sacred one right now, this Liturgy of the Eucharist – our monastic life is based on observances and in addition, by our own choice we add others like the rosary, or personal devotions to saints – observances that express our belief and nourish our faith life. In themselves, they are good, some more sacred than others.
But there is always the possibility that the heart that gives rise to these is not really given to God. It is just as possible that we are more impressed by our devotions and therefore fail to see clearly the connection between the internal and the external, the inside and outside of the cup and the dish as Jesus put it.
Jesus does give a recommendation to set things right: “But as to what is within, give alms, and behold, everything will be clean for you.” We might say, yes but one can give alms with a heart not truly focused on God. I believe Jesus means more than digging into our wallet. I believe Jesus is speaking about love – it is the heart trying to love, trying to be Christ-like that makes all the difference between self-satisfaction, posturing and true worship of God.