Wash your hands!

In Lent 24 by Bruce LogueLeave a Comment

“When Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to dine with him; so Jesus went in and took his place at the table. The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not first wash before dinner.”

Luke 11:37-44

Ritual handwashing was expected in ancient Jewish practice. In fact, a whole section is devoted to the how’s and wherefore’s of handwashing in the ancient book of oral codes called The Mishnah. No conscientious Jew at the time of Jesus would sit down to eat without first having gone through the ritual of pouring water over one’s hands.

So you can imagine the shock and disdain of Jesus’ host, when Jesus immediately sat down at the table without going through the ritual purification of washing his hands. Today it would be like blowing your nose while still seated at the table or eating with your mouth open or belching quite loudly. Gauche, indifferent, and pagan.

Jesus, on the other hand, placed no stock in outward demonstration. He knew it was easy to put on a show for public consumption but quite another to attend to purification of the heart.

Days before his crucifixion, Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” Matthew 23:25. By so saying, Jesus attacked the hypocrisy that he often saw in public religion.

God told ancient Israel that he was tired of their public demonstrations of “worship” and instead wanted them to care for the needs of people around them. Jesus borrowed from Isaiah when he said, “The people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” And Jesus warned against making a big show of one’s financial gifts at the Temple or when one prays for the attention of others.

Jesus also said that one should not engage in judgment but should attend first to the “log in your own eye.” In that exaggeration Jesus was saying that God much prefers the quiet, genuine attention to one’s own life and practice.

Jesus might just as well say those same things to us today. Our generation is just as enamored with the praise and admiration of others at the ancient Jews were. The way that we have envisioned and conducted public worship also gives opportunity for public showiness. “Wash the inside first” Jesus would say to us. Indeed.

Something to think about: What do you think it would look like if Christians today gave more attention to internal motivations and orientations of faith? On what practices would we want to focus our attentions?

Something to pray about: O God, we want your approval, but so often we seek the approval of the people around us. Please help us to refocus. Help us to seek the genuine and aiuthentic rather than the meaningless practice of ritual. In Jesus’ name we pray this. Amen.

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