There are some things that soap & water can’t get clean.
On Sunday, we talked about how Jesus’ sacrifice actually address the guilt we feel in our hearts. Jesus’ death doesn’t simply put a new coat of paint over the sin, but removes it entirely. In today’s reading in Luke 11:37-42, we get a great picture of what Jesus has in mind for the heart of His followers.
“37 When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. 38 But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal. 39 Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you. 42 “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.”
The reason the Pharisee was upset with Jesus wasn’t because Jesus didn’t wash his hands. He was upset because Jesus hadn’t done the ritual purification that was required of priests before the meal. The Pharisees were essentially taking the rules and regulations that were expected of priests and trying to hold the entire jewish nation accountable to living by them. This wasn’t God’s design. He had different sets of rules for different groups of people for a reason.
Keep the heart in mind as we work through this passage. First, Jesus responded by saying: “You pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also?”
Some think that Jesus is talking about washing the outside of the bowl, but leaving the inside part that you use dirty. And that’s completely possible. But, it seems like Jesus is talking more about the internal contents that make up the cup and dish. It would appear that Jesus is saying, you can wash the outside of the cup and dish, but your cleaning regulations can do nothing for the inner makeup of the dish itself. If you have ceramic dishes in your house, you know the outside is washable, and has a glaze on it to make it easier to clean. But, the part underneath the glazing, the part beneath that shiny, exterior surface, that never gets washed.
So Jesus says, “Did not the one who made the outside”, the part that can be cleansed by purification rituals “make the inside also?” the part that purification rituals cannot address. In the context of the illustration, this makes way more sense to me than Jesus saying they didn’t wash their dishes. But, I could be wrong.
Notice, however, the application that Jesus makes after sharing this illustration. “But as for what is inside you…” Jesus knew what was inside them. We read that a few times in the John’s gospel account, that Jesus perceived people’s thoughts and knew what was in their hearts. Jesus knew what was in the heart of pharisees. Greed and pride. It was very lucrative to be a pharisee. And there was a lot of pride associated with the higher roles. Jesus addresses what was inside them with a command they should have been obeying all along. Isn’t it interesting that the pharisees embraced and enforced all the commands that enriched them but ignored the ones that required them to be compassionate and merciful. “As for what is inside you-be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.”
Jesus goes to his “loving your neighbor as yourself” theme for teaching. “Be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.” That wasn’t going to happen. Jesus knew that. This is why he “woed” them. He gets on the religiosity of their tithing practice. Remember, doing the right things for the wrong reasons is still wrong in Jesus’ world.
The Pharisees were ridiculous in their tithing practice. Assuming that they tithed off of their income, they took the first fruits teaching to its extreme. The law says to pay a tithe, so we’re going to give a tithe off of every little thing in our lives, all the way down to the herb garden. Notice, that Jesus does not condemn their doing this. He actually says, you should have practiced the latter (tithing on everything) without leaving the former (being generous to the poor) undone.
There were actually three tithes that were supposed to be given. We only ever talk about one, but in the Old Testament, there were three. Three tithes means 30% of your income. One of them was specifically for festivals. That would be some party! Jesus says we should tithe. Jesus also says we should be generous to the poor.
But this involves more than just money. It’s a heart issue. Remember, Jesus has been talking about their purification rites. He says that God made the inside and outside of a person. It’s not only the outside that needs to be purified, but the inside as well. The part that you can’t get to with soap and water.
Jesus knew that the desires, beliefs, ambition and identity of the Pharisees was only for themselves all the time. There was no being generous to the poor or loving their neighbor. There was putting a yoke on their neighbor and crushing them for their own benefit.
In summarizing the law Jesus says the two greatest commands are: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27)
What does it mean to love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind? Well, the heart is where desire comes from. The soul is where our identity comes form. Strength is where ambition comes from. Mind is where beliefs come from. So, when we love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, it means: all our desire is for God, our identity is in Christ, our ambition for His Kingdom and our beliefs are His truth. This was not true of the Pharisees. They were deceived in every one of those areas. And they certainly didn’t love their neighbor as themselves.
They may have been externally pure, but their insides were filthy. And no matter how many times they washed the cup, it would never come clean.
There are just some things that soap and water can’t fix.