Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Changing a Pharisee's Heart

Today's gospel reading was this:
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.”  Luke 11:37-41
This is a gospel passage which struck me right between the eyes one day while I lived in Japan, and today I am back at meditating on what Jesus is getting at with his admonition to "give alms from what you have. (Four years ago, my thoughts went like this.)

Just last Friday, I was at the National Rosary Rally in Washington DC, where a speaker challenged us to broaden our understanding of almsgiving beyond an act of putting money in a collection plate. Almsgiving, he said, is any act of charity, any act of pouring out love from ourselves towards other people. My favorite definition of the human person is "a walking, aching need for love." Whenever we acknowledge the human dignity of the person before us, and meet that person with our hearts, we enter that moment of charity, of almsgiving, ripe with potential for our generosity. The first and last thing almsgiving consists of is self-donation. It may very well take the form of giving something to meet a material need. But I think we all have experienced a time when a presenting need was for the contact with a human heart, and what was given instead was a thing, food, a gadget, a present, money. A gift given without a heart moved is a sad thing, indeed. A heart moved without action taken is a cowardly thing. Christians don't have to be sad and cowardly. Because of grace, we can be like God.

But, I want to get back to this text and what it is provoking in me now.

I used to suffer greatly from a heavy dose of pharisaical religiosity. And what I mean by that is I was extremely concerned with having the right ideas, with having correct doctrine, and with having right religious observances. Now, none of these is bad, and I would say I am still concerned with these. However, back in the day, I was concerned only with these, and there I stopped. And I saw today that this results in the very big problem that Jesus is talking about: interior filth. Death on the inside.

Merge Jesus' remedy with Friday's speaker's expanded notion of almsgiving, and you get something beautiful. Jesus doesn't ever tell the Pharisees to give up their external practices and precise theology. He tells them to give alms. They should let flow from their hearts the charity which can only be present by God being present within them.

First, the Pharisees need to be joined to Christ, that streams of living water are present to flow up from within them (Jn. 7:38). Second, as the stream begins to flow and they begin to open their hearts to give, junk from their hearts will come out. Oh crap! People might see! I'll have to see it! However will I be able to live with myself!?! How? With the humiliation and purification that comes from confessing your sins, that's how (1 Jn. 1:9).

It is only when we have the humility to know our own misery, our own need, our own humanity, our own "walking, aching need for love," that right ideas, right doctrine, and right observance will serve God and neighbor. Otherwise, they, like everything else, will simply serve ego. Ego loves to hide on the throne dressed in religious robes marked "God and neighbor."

When I open my heart to give alms, my interior is made clean. My egotistical vision of myself is trashed, and that trashing is a very wholesome thing.

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