I don't think we can escape from the clarity Jesus uses to denounce this wrong attitude, but it would be a terrible mistake to think he does so to offend.
Today’s readings can be found here. Read Fr. Epicoco’s brief reflections on the daily Mass readings, Monday through Saturday, here. For Sunday Mass reading commentary from Fr. Rytel-Andrianik, see here.
The scene described in today’s Gospel is one of great intensity. Jesus agrees to go to lunch at the home of a Pharisee, and this detail should already clear away any prejudices people could have with respect to the choices Jesus makes. He doesn’t love only the publicans; he also devotes time and friendship to the Pharisees. The difference, however, is that while his theme in dealing with the publicans is repentance from sin, his theme in dealing with the Pharisees is repentance from the hypocrisy of feeling righteous.
In fact, what Jesus continually tries to help them see is how they focus excessively on externals, on appearances, without really caring about the intentions of their heart:
“The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not observe the prescribed washing before the meal. The Lord said to him, ‘Oh you Pharisees! Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish, inside you are filled with plunder and evil. You fools! Did not the maker of the outside also make the inside?’”
I don’t think we can escape from the clarity Jesus uses to denounce this wrong attitude, but it would be a terrible mistake to think he does so to offend. He actually speaks in this way in the hope of shaking his interlocutors out of deep-rooted beliefs that don’t allow them to see things for what they really are.
There’s a question we should ask, then: What could heal us from this kind of hypocrisy? What could convert us from focusing on appearances to focusing on substance? Jesus answers in this way:
“But as to what is within, give alms, and behold, everything will be clean for you.”
Only the gift of ourselves, of what we have, of what we are, heals us from the anxiety of only wanting to polish our masks. Only the gift of self and charity heals our hearts.
Father Luigi Maria Epicoco is a priest of the Aquila Diocese and teaches Philosophy at the Pontifical Lateran University and at the ISSR ‘Fides et ratio,’ Aquila. He dedicates himself to preaching, especially for the formation of laity and religious, giving conferences, retreats and days of recollection. He has authored numerous books and articles. Since 2021, he has served as the Ecclesiastical Assistant in the Vatican Dicastery for Communication and columnist for the Vatican’s daily newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.