Given the recent discussions about the newly announced restrictions on Communion under both kinds in the dioceses of Phoenix and Madison, it seems more-than providential that today’s Gospel be the encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees about the ritual practices of washing, who needs to wash, when and with whom. Jesus here shirks the strictures of his faith’s juridical extremism as manifested in the accusations levels against him by the religious leaders of his day. Jesus’s response to the critics continues to speak through the centuries and challenge us today to be much more discerning about what it is we are scrupulous about (the cleanliness of our hearts, for example) in the face of the concerns of our day.
After Jesus had spoken,
a Pharisee invited him to dine at his home.
He entered and reclined at table to eat.
The Pharisee was amazed to see
that he did not observe the prescribed washing before the meal.
The Lord said to him, “Oh you Pharisees!
Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish,
inside you are filled with plunder and evil.
Did not the maker of the outside also make the inside?
But as to what is within, give alms,
and behold, everything will be clean for you.” (Luke 11:37-41)
What does this Gospel passage have to say to us today about the matter that has received so much recent attention? It strikes me that the admonition offered by Jesus to the religious leaders of his day deserves to be echoed to the religious leaders who bear His name in our own day. Those who concern themselves with the exterior, with the minutia of juridical scrupulosity, with matters that prioritize objects over people and exclusivity over communion, should take note of the Word of God we hear proclaimed today.
Jesus does not say that cleaning the outside of the cup and dish (or who cleans today’s sacred vessels) isn’t a matter of concern, but he does challenge the prioritization of certain practices to the exclusion or subjugation of others. What does it mean to follow in the footprints of Jesus Christ today? Does the Word of God not continue to challenge our own religious structures and laws? Do we find ourselves on the side of the juridically minded Pharisees or the people-focused Jesus?