Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Tuesday in the 28th Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Memorial of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, Virgin
Soaking the Rice Pot

Readings: Romans 1:16-25; Psalm 19:2-3, 4-5; Luke 11:37-41

As to what is within, give alms… and everything will be clean for you.

The Pharisee in today’s gospel is not wrong in emphasizing the importance of purity or cleanliness. From the point of view of personal hygiene, we all know how important it is to wash one’s hands before a meal. And cleanliness of a sort is also of paramount importance in the spiritual life. We see in the first reading, for example, the connection between purity and the ability to know God. Paul accuses the impious of not according glory to God even though God has made God’s presence evident to them in all of creation. In their vanity, they preferred to acknowledge other things as their gods. As a result, God handed them over to impurity. They lost their ability to savour God’s presence in their midst. What we have here is but the opposite of what Jesus proclaims in the beatitudes: blessed are the pure in heart, they shall see God.

No, the Pharisee’s mistake lies not so much in his concern for cleanliness as in his obsession with the exterior at the expense of the interior. Indeed, his preoccupation with external rituals becomes simply another expression of the vanity that blinds people to God’s presence. Looking at Jesus, he sees not the presence of God but only someone who has not washed before a meal.

But perhaps we shouldn’t blame him too much. For the kind of purity that Jesus is emphasizing is not something that we can achieve through our own ascetical practices. We might think, for example, of how difficult it is to clean the inside of a rice-pot immediately after it has been emptied of its contents. We often need to soak it in water, or even detergent, for a while. And this is probably how we might understand Jesus’ advice to the Pharisee: give alms, and behold, everything will be clean for you. What does Jesus mean? Is it simply a matter of setting aside for the poor some coins that one has left over? Surely, the Pharisee was no stranger to this sort of almsgiving.

Or was Jesus not rather inviting the Pharisee to embark on a process of soaking? For to truly give alms, one must first allow oneself to become aware of, and even to be affected by, the plight of those to whom one is giving. Just as a used rice-pot has to be soaked in detergent in order to be cleaned, so must the Pharisee allow his heart to be softened by contact with the needy. And, as often happens, in these waters of compassion, one encounters the same God that our saint for today, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque encountered. One sees the heart of Christ pierced through for all our sakes.

How is Jesus inviting us to experience this kind of soaking, this kind of interior cleansing process, today?

1 comment:

  1. One of the tenets of Islam is almsgiving, especially during the just concluded holy month of Ramadhan. Muslims in Singapore tithe; Catholics don't.

    There are as many motivations / attitudes to almsgiving: Jesus' observation of the poor (destitute) widow who gave all she had; Fr Chris' remarks about Pharisaic almsgiving; people from all walks of life phoning in to the President's All Star Charity. The attitude (or frame of mind if you like) I personally like best is to be constantly aware of the plight of the needy, to be "soaked" as Fr Chris points out. And to be graced as such, we need to remain connected to God in as palpable a way. After all, our almsgiving, like so many other things Christian we hold dear, has its source in the Spirit.