Luke 11:37-41 (NIV) When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. But the Pharisee, noticing that Jesus did not first wash before the meal, was surprised.
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. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But give what is inside [the dish] to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.
The Pharisees placed great pride in their external holiness, their conspicuous obedience to the smallest detail of every commandment. This got them great praise from the common people, but, as Jesus was about to demonstrate, it did not earn them any praise from God.
Devout Jews performed a ceremonial washing of their hands before they ate and any time that they came in from the world, in case they had contacted anything unclean. Their fear was that the uncleanness would adhere to their hands, and then contaminate their food, and thus make them unclean when they ate. But this Pharisee noticed and was dismayed by the fact that Jesus did not perform this traditional ceremonial washing before He sat down to eat. His question was, how can someone who is supposed to be such a great holy man not do this small ritual to maintain His holiness against the spiritual uncleanness of the world.
But Jesus knew that physical contact with the world was not what made a person unclean. Instead, it was what came out of a person’s heart that caused them to be seen as unclean by God (Mark 7:14-16). We can scrub our hands for hours and still have a corrupt heart filled with hatred and violence, and thus still be completely unclean in God’s sight, even if our hands are squeaky clean.
And this was the point that Jesus was making with this man. Even though Jesus’ hands were unwashed, His heart was free of pollution from the world. The presence and power of the Holy Spirit so filled Jesus, so forcefully flowed through His life and out of His life, that no spiritual uncleanness could ever swim against the current to penetrate His heart.
If the Pharisee really wanted to stay spiritually clean in the midst of a sinful world, he needed to have a generous and giving spirit that would open a path for the Holy Spirit to penetrate his heart and flow through his life. Then he would not be able to be defiled by the world.
Father, we can still fall into the trap of doing good things on the outside, and believe that that makes us good on the inside. We can surround ourselves with ceremonies, believing that those ceremonies will somehow purify our hearts. But what is really needed is a heart that is open to Your cleansing power, and the sanctifying and sustaining power of the Holy Spirit. Help me to keep my focus on the positive holiness of actively living in Your kingdom economy, instead of simply trying to keep bad stuff out or cleaned off. Then I can be truly holy in Your power. Amen.