When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal. Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you. Luke 11:37-41
So Jesus didn’t wash his hands before the meal. That fact almost makes me laugh out loud. It’s this kind of thing that makes Jesus so compelling, so intriguing.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about hand washing and I definitely teach my own kids to wash their hands before they eat. What I love about it is that Jesus knows the depth of importance to this practice and instead of just going along with it and doing the expected he ignores it as a means to exposing the hearts of those watching.
And what follows is a long list of very harsh words for the Pharisees; words that can easily become enjoyable for us to read. At least for me this is true. I read harsh words spoken by Jesus to the overly-religious of the day and it’s hard for me not to start thinking, “Yeah! You get ‘em Jesus. Lay into them. They deserve it.”
But if this becomes my response, aren’t I in some ways becoming just like them? Aren’t I judging them and falling into the very trap addressed in Jesus’ harsh words to them?
Right away Jesus starts talking about appearances—the temptation to focus on what people see rather than what is true (v.39-41). And right away we are in deep because these words are not just about Pharisees, these words are about you and me—about everyone, because everyone does this. We all want to be perceived in certain ways, whether it’s true or not. We all have secrets we hold back. Thoughts we pretend we don’t have, desires we act like have never entered our hearts and minds. We all speak words that sound better than the words we are really thinking and we all tell stories in ways that put us in the best light possible. It just comes naturally to us to be overly concerned with how we look to others not how our hearts are or how we really are.
So often we settle for perceptions of emotional health and spirituality rather than their realities.
Jesus is worried about us being clean on the inside. And look at what he says about how to be clean. Or maybe what’s more striking is what he doesn’t say.
He doesn’t say to be clean we must pray the right prayer. He doesn’t say that to be clean we must memorize the right Bible verses. He doesn’t say that to be clean we have to go to church every week or believe the right seven things, or say the right words. These are all important things and good for the journey of following Jesus, but these aren’t what Jesus identifies here.
To be clean Jesus says that we need to be generous to the poor. Did you go check to see if there was more? I did. There isn’t.
This is all Jesus has to say about being clean?! There must be more…right???
I think what Jesus is getting at is that being clean-hearted is about looking outside ourselves. The temptation of humanity is to look at ourselves, to create little empires that revolve around us. This typically leads to the practice of posturing. When my world revolves around me I easily become consumed with what everyone thinks of me, how they see me. And everything becomes an opportunity—not to be me—but to be a version of me that I think others want to see.
We are good at cleaning the outside of our cup and ignoring what’s going on inside. Jesus calls us to a stop on this and says, start being generous to the poor. It will change who you are on the inside.
This week we will continue looking at the words of Jesus to the Pharisees found in Luke 11. The “woes” as they have been called. Anytime someone starts a sentence with the words “woe to you” we probably aren’t going to like the outcome. But in this case, we need it. So join me this week as we look at the woes of Jesus. Tough love is coming our way!