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Luke 11: 37-41 Pharisees invite Jesus to dinner. Stand by for fireworks!

October 16, 2012

Tuesday 16th October 2012

I gave a short homily this morning on today’s gospel. Moral of the story – don’t judge on appearances and categorise people by applying strict rules to them so as to exclude them. Have a bit of understanding and compassion. And recognise your own shortcomings – no-one is perfect, and to claim to be somehow “better” than other people is sheer hypocrisy……

You can listen to this if you prefer at

I don’t know whether you have ever noticed this before, but all three readings that we hear on a Sunday are carefully selected so that they share a theme; but this is not the case with the ordinary weekday readings. On weekdays we hear a lesson from either the Old or New Testament, and then a gospel. The two readings are not specially selected like the Sunday readings, and they don’t complement each other like on a Sunday. During weekdays Holy Mother Church wants us to hear readings from all the books of the bible. This week the first readings are a series working through Saint Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. But it so happens, by chance, that there is a link to be found between the two readings this Tuesday morning.

The first reading today, Saint Paul’s letter to the Galatians, is a continuation of yesterday’s reading: as I explained yesterday, Saint Paul is trying to convince the new Christians that it is unnecessary to adopt all the oppressive rules and regulations that were the obsession of the Pharisees.

 The gospel is one of the harshest teachings that we hear Our Lord making. He is invited to dinner at the home of a Pharisee. Why would a Pharisee want to invite Jesus to dinner? Because they had heard about Jesus’ tremendously powerful teaching, and I’m sure they wanted to learn. We need to realise that if we had been around in the Holy Land 2,000 years ago, we devout, God-fearing Catholics might well have found ourselves counted amongst the Pharisees. Because the Pharisees were the Jews who went to the synagogue and kept to the rules. They were essentially good people, but in their zeal to do things right, they could appear to consider themselves something a bit better those other people who didn’t attend the weekly services. The Pharisees get a bit if a bad press from what we hear in the Gospels. It sounds like Jesus doesn’t like them, because it always seems that he is criticizing their attitudes. They said one thing and did another, or they got obsessed with trivial things and lost sight of the important things. And this was despite the Pharisees being God-fearing people who knew their scriptures. It’s just they didn’t understand the true meaning of the Scriptures. They sought salvation through following rules, and in the process, became ultra-critical of anyone who didn’t follow the rules. But the rules themselves were often only available to wealthy people like the Pharisee class. Think of the ritual washing which they considered so important. You can only do that if you have water, clean water. And for that you need servants. Most people simply found it impossible to comply with the washing rules. So the Pharisees looked down on the poor. They judged them by their appearance, not by what was in their hearts.

Do you think Jesus forgot to wash his hands before eating? Of course not. He was well brought up. Jesus didn’t wash in so he could make a point, so he could identify with the poor, excluded people of society. So when the Pharisees took the bait and asked Him about His failure to follow the ritual washing rules, He was ready with a vital teaching point:

 “Oh, you Pharisees! You clean the outside of cup and plate, while inside yourselves you are filled with extortion and wickedness. What’s the point of preparing a beautiful meal, served on the best crockery, cleaned with the best of automatic dishwashers, with everyone pretending everything is lovely, when inside the people at the meal are scheming, and trying to get one up on everyone else all the time.

 So we too definitely need to be on our guard about unconsciously developing bad attitudes towards other people. We need to be careful not to exclude those who, because of complicated rules, mistakenly think that they are not worthy to take part in our worship. If we’re not careful we can very harshly judge people who don’t seem to match our high standards. So we need to be open to and compassionate towards the difficulties faced by the poor, the divorced, those struggling with their sexuality. After all, we’re all sinners. So although we shouldn’t accept immoral behaviour, we should show compassion towards others who lead sinful lives and resist the urge to exclude them. Simply cutting people off is not Jesus’ way. He tells the Pharisees that rather than become obsessed with outward appearances of cleanliness, they should “give alms from what you have and then indeed everything will be clean for you.” And the Greek word used in this gospel for alms is ‘eleemosyne’ and the root of that word carries the sense of being compassionate and merciful towards others.


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  1. A Anthony permalink

    Sorry: the first reading and the Gospe do share a theme – the first reading being chosen to match the Game gospel passage, but the second reading is not connected; it is independent.

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