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Summary: What does it mean today to avoid being a pharisee? To wash ourselves with and be fountains of mercy.

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Wash Up for Dinner

14 October 2008

Tuesday of 28th week in Course

This is a dangerous Gospel to read to a bunch of guys, because it sounds like Jesus didn’t learn the lesson from Mary that he should wash up for dinner. As we find frequently in Scripture, the superficial meaning is nowhere near what we should learn from Jesus’s word and example.

Pharisees had the twin spiritual diseases of hypocrisy and scrupulosity. They were scrupulous to keep as far as possible the 600 plus tenets of Torah, and the customs that grew up around them. For instance, to protect themselves against disobeying one ritual observance, they never ate meat and milk products together. That means kosher kitchens have one area and set of utensils for meat, and another area and set of utensils for cheese and milk. You can see how that would diminish, even eliminate, the time they might have for good works for the poor, or resources to give to charity.

So when Jesus, who was not a Pharisee, omits the ceremonial washings prescribed for the Pharisees, his Pharisee host, according to Luke, “looks on with wonder.” This is a Greek word that Luke uses often when Jesus has performed some miracle. The onlookers are “amazed,” and this is often the first step toward faith. Jesus looks on his amazement and uses it as a teachable moment: external works of cleanliness must be matched by internal cleanliness. And how do we sinners accomplish that? By doing good for the poor–by giving alms. It can also be translated “giving mercy from within.”

Here’s the basis for our spiritual growth, then. We grow interiorly through celebration of the sacraments, private prayer, and study. And we develop hearts of mercy, like Jesus. Then we are inspired by the Holy Spirit to do good for others–tutoring, working in soup kitchens, teaching religion to the young–whatever the Spirit prompts. Then we are in the image of Jesus, and that makes us children of God.


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