THE HYPOCRISY OF THE SCRIBES AND PHARISEES (Lk 11:37–41).
Oh you Pharisees!
After Jesus had spoken, a Pharisee invited him to dine at his home. He entered and reclined at table to eat. The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not observe the prescribed washing before the meal. The Lord said to him, “Oh you Pharisees! Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish, inside you are filled with plunder and evil. You fools! Did not the maker of the outside also make the inside? But as to what is within, give alms, and behold, everything will be clean for you.”
Gospel Commentary from the Navarre Bible, Commentary to the Gospel of St. Luke (with permission)
- 39-52 In this passage — one of the most severe in the Gospel — Jesus determinedly unmasks the vice which was largely responsible for official Judaism’s rejection of his teaching — hypocrisy cloaked in legalism.
- There are many people who, under the guise of doing good, keeping the mere letter of the law, fail to keep its spirit; they close themselves to the love of God and neighbour; they harden their hearts and, though apparently being very upright, turn others away from fervent pursuit of God — making virtue distasteful.
- Jesus’ criticism is vehement because they are worse than open enemies: against open enemies one can defend oneself, but these are enemies it is almost impossible to deal with. The scribes and Pharisees were blocking the way of those who wanted to follow Jesus: they were the most formidable obstacle to the Gospel. Our Lord’s invective against the scribes and Pharisees is reported even more fully in chapter 23 of St Matthew. Cf. note on Mt 23:1-39.
- 40-41 It is not easy to work out what these verses mean. Probably our Lord is using the idea of cleaning the inside and outside of dishes to teach that a person’s heart is much more important than what appears on the surface — whereas the Pharisees got it the wrong way round, as so many people tend to do:
- Jesus is warning us not to be so concerned about the outside” but rather to give importance to “the inside”. Applying this to the case of alms: we have to be generous with those things we are inclined to hoard; in other words, it is not enough just to give a little money (that could be a purely formal, external gesture); love is what we have to give others love and understanding, refinement, respect for their freedom, deep concern for their spiritual and material welfare . . .; this is something we cannot do unless our interior dispositions are right.
- In an address to young people, Pope John Paul II explains what almsgiving really means: “The Greek word for alms, eleemosyne, comes from éleos, meaning compassion and mercy. Various circumstances have combined to change this meaning so that almsgiving is often regarded as a cold act, with no love in it. But almsgiving in the proper sense means realizing the needs of others and letting them share in one’s own goods. Who would say that there will not always be others who need help, especially spiritual help, support, consolation, fraternity, love? The world is always very poor, as far as love is concerned” (28 March 1979).
TOPIC: DO YOU ACT LIKE MANY OF THE PHARISEES?
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