And as (Jesus) spoke, a certain Pharisee asked Him to dine with him. So He went in and sat down to eat. 38 When the Pharisee saw it, he marvelled that He had not first washed before dinner. 39 Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness. 40 “Foolish ones! Did not He who made the outside make the inside also? 41 “But rather give alms of such things as you have; then indeed all things are clean to you. 42 “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass by justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone (Luke 11:37-42NKJV)

More telling words from Jesus as recorded by Luke. As usual I have highlighted the phrases that particularly came to my attention following my renewed perspective on the Bible’s teaching that resulted in writing “The Fellowship of the Secret” *. Previously such passages had confused if not positively contradicted my understanding of the gospel but now they make better sense. In this narrative, the Lord is using the idea of cleaning the inside and outside of dishes to teach that a person’s heart is more important than what appears on the surface–whereas the Pharisees got it the wrong way round, as many people tend to do. Jesus is warning us to be less concerned about “the outside” and give more importance to “the inside” – not least in the practice of religion.

Giving alms to cleanse the soul

Almsgiving in the proper sense means realizing the needs of others and letting them share in one’s own goods. The Greek word for alms (ἐλεημοσύνη) is derived from ἔλεος  meaning compassion or mercy, which implies more than a mechanical act of donating or tithing. It may be a theologically alien concept to many (including myself in the past) that almsgiving can cleanse the soul or cover sin, but not to Jesus Christ (v41) or indeed his lead disciple (cf. 1Pet4:8). The Pharisees had meticulously tithed herbs according to the requirements of Torah but had neglected vastly more important issues: social justice and “the love of God” (v42). I have come to understand the latter phrase as a genitive of origin. It refers not so much to God’s love for us (a fact, but not the context here) or even ours for Him (hopefully true but only half the story); it pertains rather to the impartation of the divine quality of love (cf. Jn17:26) engrafted by the Spirit such that we come to love others more as God loves them (cf. 1Jn2:5).  That is more clearly indicated where John refers a few verses later in that passage to those who are worldly not having “the love of the Father within them” (1Jn2:15). It is in the context of partaking of the divine nature by which we come to possess more of what God possesses, especially holiness aligned with love; God being love and thrice holy.

The Pharisees, or at least the ones Jesus was addressing, were religious for sure, but they failed to grasp the inner meaning and purpose of the religion JHWE had instituted for the good of their souls and the social wellbeing of the people they led: intended to be a pattern for the society of God’s inaugurated kingdom on Earth.

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