Gospel LK 11:37-41
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.
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.”
There seems to be an apparent contradiction in today’s Gospel. Jesus chastises the Pharisees, for cleansing the outside of the dish, but being filled interiorly with plunder and evil. Jesus said to them “Did not the maker of the outside also make the inside?” And our mind is being setup inside this Gospel, for us to understand that Christian perfection is not an exterior perfection. It’s not for show. Christian perfection stems to the perfection of the human heart where even our thoughts and our interior attitudes are in line with Christ. This is why one of the scripture passages by St. Paul says Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Phil 4:8)
As Christians it’s not enough for us to just have everybody else believe that were okay, but in God’s sight the interior of our life must be perfected according to His holiness.
And so whenever Jesus gets to this climactic moment in today’s Gospel, “Did not the maker of the outside, also make the inside?” He say’s “As to what is within,” and His advice is interesting. I would have thought, “As to what is within, pray.” That’s what I would have thought he’d say; because prayer is naturally and interior act. But what he says is “As to what is within, give alms.” That’s interesting. Cause isn’t giving alms exterior? Isn’t it an act for show? Isn’t it public? So why is it that Jesus says giving alms is a purification from within? Because as St. Paul says “the love of money is the root of all evil.“ (1 Tim 6:10) And a Christian cannot achieve perfection without also giving alms.
You see our instinct would be that prayer would be an interior act. Fasting could be an interior discipline. So many Christians just sort of skirt by the almsgiving thing; whether that’s the 10% that we are required as Christians with our tithe; or whether that is being stingy with our goods in only a minimal amount of way. Jesus said that if you want to be perfect within, give alms. That is an intrinsic part of our Christian identity. It’s not an optional part of our Christian identity. It’s not as if I pray, OR I fast, OR if I do acts of stewardship. “If I give a whole bunch of my time to the church then I don’t have to give alms,” - that’s a lie. We are called to be stewards of our time and talent as well as to give of our material possessions. It’s not one or the other. It’s not prayer OR fast OR give alms. It is prayer AND fasting AND giving alms.
And how is it that alms are tied to our interior life? In three ways: First of all by giving alms we are very practically thinking of other people over our needs. You know a 10% check every week , I don’t care if you make a $1000 dollars a week or $10,000 a week, is still 10% and it will always be hard for anyone to give that away. And every time a person writes out a check or puts money into a basket there is a serious interior battle that says “I could use this, but I choose to give this away.” The first good of alms is thinking of others prior to thinking of myself.
The second good of alms which comes naturally out of alms giving is a trust in Gods goodness. If God has said, “10%,” if God has said, “Give alms,” if God has said, “Put your material possessions at the use of other people,” if Jesus Christ himself says, “Sell everything that you have and give to the poor and come follow me,” (Matt 19:21) then the act of giving alms is simultaneously and act of trust in God. God will not let His children go without their basic needs, maybe their luxuries, but not their basic needs. Our God will not ignore us. And the Act by which we are able to give of our material possessions is simultaneously an act that says, “My Father God, will provide for me all that I need.” And that is a huge leap of faith. Not only is alms giving practically putting other people before myself it’s also saying that I am a child of the Father and I trust that he will not let me fall.
Now that’s the first two things that naturally come from alms giving but there is a third, which is a super-added grace of the Gospel that comes from almsgiving. This doesn’t naturally come from the act of alms. But its supernaturally something that God promises to his children and it’s this: Those, whom give alms, will have their sins forgiven. Alms giving is an act of receiving forgiveness for sins. That’s the promise of the Old Testament and of the New Testament. “Almsgiving blots out a multitude of sins.”
So, let us not only pay attention to the exterior cup, but also pay attention to the interior because God has also made the inside. And if we want to be pure on the inside then we pray, we fast AND we give alms.