Outside in – Tuesday, 28th Week in ordinary time – Lk 11:37-41
Today’s Gospel exegesis is going to be a bit of a strain on the brain. While the characters in the text seem to be familiar (the Pharisees) it is the intended characters (Jewish Christians) that may astound us and leaves us a bit perplexed. In order to understand this text fully we need to remind ourselves that the intended audience of Luke’s Gospel are the Gentiles, (Non – Jews) many of whom now follow the Jesus. Here in lies the flash point as the early Christian community consisted of Jewish Christians (Jews who now follow Jesus) and the Gentile Christians (non-Jews who now follow Jesus)
The confluence of such diverse thinking people with multiple religious backgrounds is bound to cause friction especially on matters such as ritual purity which were sacred to the Jews. Luke in his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles mentions the Pharisees 35 times. Although it is easy to count the number of times he mentions the Pharisees it is more difficult to ascertain their function in his story. In some cases, such as the incident of Gamaliel in the Acts of the Apostle, the Pharisee in question is mentioned in positive light as is Paul the Pharisee (who became the Apostle).
We know from Acts 15:5 that those Pharisees who had become the followers of Christ began to demand that the Gentile converts to Christianity be circumcised and charged to obey the laws of Moses. While on the surface of today’s Gospel it appears that Jesus has a ‘run in’ with the Pharisees, perhaps Luke is actually addressing his congregation who composed of Pharisees who now followed Christ and who were demanding an imposition of rigorous Jewish ritual purity on Gentile Christians as a criteria to be part of both the community as well as participation in the common meal. It is for this reason that Luke presents Jesus as demolishing such ritual demands in favour of internal purity.
The text of today is part of a larger pericope (verses 37-54) which begins with Jesus accepting a meal at a Pharisees house at which he does the unimaginable; Jesus is discourteous to his host whom He insults. This is followed by three woes that Jesus proclaims against the Pharisees and lawyers and finally we see a plot being hatched to trap Jesus, set by these very agitated Jews.
Based on Biblical scholarship, I am going to run along the lines of thought that present the Pharisees as both, Jewish leaders at the time, as well as those Pharisees who now followed Christianity while demanding the imposition of ritual purity on their fellow Gentile Christians. To such followers, Jesus has some very harsh words. It is not the washing of the cup from the outside that makes on clean but the transformation of the inner being. Jesus presents the discipline of almsgiving from the heart as a true sign of inner purity. Those who have not must be helped by those who have and those who have must not hide behind religious rituals as a justification for not giving.
In one swift move Jesus makes the most incredible and revolutionary statement when he declared “all things clean” in verse 41. It is when one crosses the boundaries to care for those who are in need that one is rendered clean and not just some established ritual practice.
Fr Warner D’Souza
With several inputs from the JBC
Spread the love ♥