Jesus is invited by a Pharisee for a meal. The Pharisee is astonished at Jesus because Jesus had not washed his hand before the meal was served. This ritual involved a small amount of water was poured over the hands of each diner. This amounted to enough water that would fill an egg and a half. The water was first poured on the wrist, then the palm, and last to the finger tips. The second time the finger tips were washed first, then the palms, and last the wrist. Jesus response is s rather harsh and lengthy rebuke for the Pharisee. What disturbed Jesus so much was not just the ritual but more than likely Jesus realizes that the invitation to dinner was not so much an act of hospitality but an opportunity to trap Jesus.
Jesus knew that many of the Pharisees who are so insistent on ritual purity, but inside their hearts they are filled with greed and wickedness. Jesus sees some Pharisees are fixated on externalism in religion, of legalistic pedantry, of religious ostentation, and pious hypocrisy. What Jesus is concerned about is both the inside and the outside of a person. Pope Francis is preaching a similar message in his references to the broader tent, a Church of joy, a Church of love, mercy and forgiveness. Pope Francis a pleading for bishops and priests to not get lost in unimportant details of ecclesiastical management, and even encourages them to remember the important realities of Christian life. The Pharisees in Luke’s gospel neglected justice and forgot love. They never forgot the tithing!
Recently at a priests retreat, Daniel Cardinal DiNardo preached a very moving sermon to the clergy of the Diocese. He ended by pleading with the priests that there should be "No more harshness, No more harshness." This is what Jesus was telling the Pharisees. Their insidious harshness was driving people away from God. Jesus points out all things are clean and by crossing boundaries to care for those in need one is automatically rendered clean.
Fr. Ken O’Malley, C.P., is the local superior at Holy Name Passionist Community in Houston, Texas.