The traditions and practices surrounding the purification of nearly everything was strong in the Jewish culture, such that when they did not see Jesus observing them, they criticized Him. After all, one’s holiness relies upon following every act required by the Law; play by the rules, and you win.
But Jesus teaches them that merely practicing the Law is not the same as observing it, the word “observe” meaning, at its root, “to listen.” What good is it, for example, to purify your dishes if you hate your neighbor? Our own news media is filled with instances of celebrities who, outwardly, seem to have it all together until, one day, something of their inward life is revealed, and the house of cards comes crashing down. Likewise we often try very hard to control how people perceive us; we want others to think we are happy, attractive, good, and successful, even if we are not ourselves convinced. The people of Jesus’ time were no different: some believed that if God saw that they were good, then He would favor them.
“You fools! Did not the maker of the outside also make the inside?” The Pharisees believed that God was satisfied merely by right action, regardless of the interior forces that motivated the action. One must offer certain sacrifices for certain sins, but contrition was of secondary importance. Jesus shatters this view, reminding them that God is interested in the whole self, that—as He says earlier in Luke’s Gospel—“a good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil…” (6:45) Holy deeds are not holy in themselves, but are holy because they spring from holy desires and intentions; the Pharisees, in other words, have no integrity. Their actions say one thing but their hearts—which God can plainly see (1 Samuel 16:7)—say another. Jesus offers a cure for their religious disconnect, something that will make them whole: giving alms. In this simple, unseen, act of generosity they will learn humility, for they will be surrendering the wealth to which they cling; they will be emptying themselves of the very thing that causes the internal impurity they strive so hard to avoid externally.
Jesus teaches us that even if we perform outwardly religious acts—we pray the rosary, we attend Mass, we read Scripture, we perform works of service—yet have not love (1 Cor. 13:1-3), then our deeds are of next to no worth. The outside of the vessel may be clean, but the inside may yet be quite the opposite. It is an incredibly challenging Gospel, but a vital one. If we are to be fully alive in our faith, and not only appear so, we must constantly seek Jesus’ help in serving God and neighbor with our hearts as well as our actions, loving one another as He has loved us. (John 13:34-35)