One reason the requirements of the kingdom can be challenging is the necessity for us to remove our pharisaic mask. That mask is the person we pretend to be – the false outer personality that we show the world, but is contradicted within us.
The destructive aspect of our mask is our tendency to identify with it, to believe we are the person we pretend to be, and thereby remain ignorant of our real self. If we are to belong to the kingdom, this false front must go. That is the primary point of Jesus in today’s gospel.
Accepting Jesus’ challenge to shed that mask, taking the risk of being authentically ourselves, is the first step in accepting God’s grace, a step that brings about the moment of salvation. That is the challenge Jesus bluntly places before the Pharisees, and us.
Scripture scholars note that nowhere does the Law of Moses require that Jews must ritually wash their hands before eating. But some Pharisees, who were concerned about ritual purity, adopted the practice in imitation of priests washing their hands before offering sacrifices.
Jesus deftly shifts from washing hands to washing a cup or dish. He uses the image of washing only outside of a cup or dish as a comparison for washing oneself externally while being interiorly “filled with plunder and evil.” The word translated plunder means that which has been stolen, but it can also mean greed.
Just as hands can be cleaned, so can hearts. How? Jesus tells us. By giving alms, by giving of ourselves to others. Then will be washed clean, clean of our attachments and pretensions, free to give of ourselves to others. Jesus calls us to be clean on the inside. Then we will have no need to wear a mask.
Deacon Manuel Valencia is on the staff at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.