TUESDAY HOMILY: Pharisees and Fakery
Give alms and behold, everything will be clean for you
I wonder what Jesus would make of botox and plastic surgery? What would he have to say about our cosmetic dentistry, our workouts at the gym, our trips to the mall for more clothes, and our obsession with our outward appearance?
GREENVILLE, S.C. (Catholic Online) - I wonder what Jesus would make of botox and plastic surgery? What would he have to say about our cosmetic dentistry, our workouts at the gym, our trips to the mall for more clothes, and our obsession with our outward appearance? He's probably make a smart comment like, "Looks good on the outside. I wonder what's on the inside?"
In that way he'd get people to think not only about the shallow sin of vanity, but challenge them to look deeper. He'd probably also recite another quip of his which goes with today's gospel: "Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart."
Making sure we look good and have our face on is not only physical. The person who is obsessed with looking perfect often wants to behave perfectly too. They feel that if they can just get their lives ordered and organized then everything will be perfect and they will be perfect and people will like and admire them and even better--God will be pleased with them!
The Pharisees were a sect of Jews who were very strict in their observance of the rituals, rules and regulations of their religion. They had rules about every aspect of life, and washing before meals was not only hygienic, but it was also part of their religious life. Every action had a prayer that went with it. From their point of view, when Jesus was casual about the observance of the social rules he was also being casual about his religious duties.
Beneath their perfectly organized, neat and tidy lives the Pharisees were full of pride and self righteousness. Beneath their perfect observance of all the rituals, rules and regulations of their religion there was were a boiling cauldron of rage, lust, jealousy, greed and lust for power.
The interesting thing is that Jesus did not suggest that they cure themselves by attacking the pride, self righteousness, rage, greed and lust head on. He knew the religious traps and the spiritual minefields they would face. When a self righteous person tries to be a better person, nine times out of ten they only succeed in making themselves even more self righteous and obnoxious. When you try to attack sin head on it most often wriggles free and slinks under a rock and hides from you--serpent that it is.
Jesus sees the layer upon layer of self deception, trickery, and self righteous posturing. It's like these people have had spiritual botox. Part of them is dead and can't respond honestly. So he comes up with an ingenious solution: Give alms. Give alms! That means giving money! Yikes!
That is still the answer. If you want to be cured of being a control freak, of being more concerned about the outward forms and not the inward heart's condition; if you are more worried about yourself and your image, then give alms. Give to the poor.
People should understand--priests don't ask the faithful to give sacrificially just because there is a light bill to be paid and the church roof needs to be repaired. We ask the faithful to give because something good happens spiritually when we give generously.
Something shifts within our cold and greedy and stubborn hearts. When we learn to give alms generously and with open hearts the self righteousness and pride starts to melt away. When we give generously our eyes are opened to the needs of others and we start to sympathize.
When we give generously the inner condition of being better than others (and needing to show it by a neat and shiny exterior) evaporates and the healing begins. Suddenly all things will be good and life will be transformed.
That's what the Lord means when he says, "Give alms and behold, everything will be clean for you!"
Fr Dwight Longenecker is pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church in Greenville, South Carolina. Sign up here for his free newsletter and visit his website and blog at dwightlongenecker.com
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: gospel, homily, true religion, almsgiving, spirituality, Fr Dwight Longenecker
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