Summary: Everything that Jesus does, or that people do to Jesus, gives Him an opportunity to teach or preach to us hard-skulled folks.

Tuesday of the 28th Week in Course 2020

Wash Up!

I’m pretty certain that somewhere in this wide Catholic world there is a smart-Alec youngster who hears this Gospel and mouths off to mom: “Jesus didn’t wash up before dinner. Why do I have to do that?” In these days of almost overdone attention to personal hygiene, pretty much all of us are astonished that Jesus would walk into the Pharisee’s house, recline at table, and refuse to wash up.

But then we miss the point, don’t we. Everything that Jesus does, or that people do to Jesus, gives Him an opportunity to teach or preach to us hard-sculled folks. Even as the Roman legionnaires were hammering His feet and hands to the cross, He preached a prayer of forgiveness. His sacrifice was bringing forgiveness to the whole human race, so He gave a word of interpretation instead of the curses being spewed by His two criminal companions. So clearly in the presence of reverend Pharisee, He is teaching them and us a lesson.

Saint Paul, here in the letter to the Galatians, helps us understand the lesson. Saul, later Paul, was also a Pharisee, strictly applying to His own life all of the rules of Torah that were given to the Temple Levites. He thought that was the path to forgiveness and acceptance by God. He refused to listen to the Gospel preached by these crazy, heretical followers of the Way, followers of the executed so-called Messiah, Jesus. But on his long journey to Damascus to round up and imprison more of them, he was struck blind to the scenery and pierced by the interior Light of Christ. “Saul, Saul, why dost thou persecute me? It is hard for thee to kick against the cattle prod.” Jesus identified Himself as the Lord Saul worshiped, and, moreover, as One with the Christians Saul was persecuting. So when he wrote, decades later, of this event to the Galatians, he was telling them that they were stupid to try to mix in Jewish legalism with Christian faith. Following the Pharisaic practices, especially circumcision, actually separated them from Christ. Their faith, working through love, was the way to do God’s will.

Our Lord was eager to show divine mercy to everyone. But the Pharisees were a tough set of nuts to crack. They imposed all kinds of extra rules on themselves and crammed their hearts full of suspicion of anyone who didn’t follow their example. Moreover, they practiced a kind of extortion in scenes like today’s meal, actively condemning anyone who did not act like a Pharisee. I suspect that this guy was about to throw out Jesus if He didn’t submit to the purification ritual. Jesus’s little sermon about throwing out the evil things in their hearts as a kind of almsgiving to God for the benefit of the people around them is something all of us should literally take to heart.

In the present crisis of community health, the face-mask is the most obvious personal sign of our desire to reduce risk. We know that they have essentially zero ability to keep the wearer safe from a virus that is far smaller than the fabric mesh. It shows our willingness to help protect others, at least in a small way. I wear a mask because I’ve had upper respiratory problems since the day I was born. I cough and clear my throat frequently. So a mask makes some sense. We need to be careful not to judge a person’s inner intentions by their willingness to mask-up. That’s a bit pharisaic, isn’t it?

Far more challenging is the question of what to do when there is a safe and effective vaccine. Nobody is talking about that very much. The first issue is the ethics behind the science. Some of the faster-available meds have a moral problem–they were created with the help of materials from aborted children. I will myself ask the provenance of any vaccine anyone wants to give me. I think we all should. It is an opportunity to share our concern for our little brothers and sisters who have been turned into medical supplies.

It’s going to be a challenge for all of us to come out of this pandemic in a grace-filled way. There will be issues we don’t even know about yet. So listen to the wise leaders in the Church, make decisions that go beyond your own self-benefit, and pray daily for God’s protection and help for us all. And remember to wash your hands; you aren’t called to preach sermons.

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