While he was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to dine with him; so he went in and took his place at the table. The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not first wash before dinner. Then the Lord said to him, "Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you….”
Insides and outsides: an eternal theme. Christians have never been allowed to forget entirely the claims of the inner life. It is impossible to read, for example, Matthew 6 or today’s reading without seeing that Christian life has to have its roots in the deepest places. Here is a text from a 14th-century mystic, Johann Tauler, to this effect: “It is certain that if God is to be born in the soul, it must turn back to eternity...it must turn in towards itself with all its might, must recall itself, and concentrate all its faculties within itself, the lowest as well as the highest. All its dissipated powers must be gathered up into one, because unity is strength.” But it is not a flight from the world. Tauler’s next words are, “Next the soul must go out. It must travel away from itself, above itself.... There must be nothing left in us but a pure intention towards God.”
John Henry Newman’s famous definition (1852) of a gentleman – which is very long – has the following elements in it, “The true gentleman carefully avoids whatever may cause a jar or a jolt in the minds of those with whom he is cast: all clashing of opinion, or collision of feeling…. His great concern is to make every one at their ease and at home…. He guards against unseasonable allusions, or topics which may irritate; he is seldom prominent in conversation.” Of course it is very unfair to pick out these bits, but still, it makes you think: Jesus was not a gentleman! At any rate he wasn’t a Victorian gentleman.
He was invited to a meal by the Pharisees, and he didn’t think that it was going to be like dining at the high table at Oxford. It was more like an interrogation. They immediately found fault with him: he hadn't observed the ritual washing of hands. Then he was not to them “like an easy chair or a good fire” (Newman), but more like a blow-torch. “You Pharisees, you clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside yourselves you are full of greed and evil.”
He called them hypocrites, but he never called them the embodiment of evil. His anger came from compassion, not from hatred. Surprisingly it was the gentlemanly Newman who would use those terrible words, “embodied evil.” Explaining why a heretical teacher should meet with no mercy, he wrote: “He assumes the office of the Tempter; and so far forth as his error goes, must he be dealt with by a competent authority, as if he were embodied evil.”
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