Almsgiving for Cleansing

Luke 11: 37-41
Gal 5:1–6 / Psa 119

But as to what is within, give alms, and behold, everything will be clean for you.
(Luke 11:41)

No laws or rites can make us clean
If deep within hides iniquity.
What washes off the stain of sin
Is when we practice charity.

After Jesus had spoken, a Pharisee invited Him to dine at his home. He entered and reclined at table to eat. The Pharisee was astonished to see that He did not observe the prescribed washing before the meal. And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of extortion and wickedness. You fools! Did not He Who made the outside make the inside also? But as to what is within, give alms, and behold, everything will be clean for you.” (Luke 11:37-41)

Reflection

A Pharisee had invited Jesus for dinner. As the Lord proceeded to his couch to begin eating, His host wondered why He had not observed the prescribed cleansing rite before meals. Was our Lord deliberately avoiding this washing ritual in order to teach a lesson to the Pharisees who “cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of extortion and wickedness”?

Jesus took this occasion to teach the principle of displacement. “Give alms,” He said, “and behold, everything will be clean for you” (Lk.11:41). He urged the Jews (and us) to give alms because charity towards the poor is an expression of God’s love, compassion and mercy. It is actually God Who is the source of our generosity, and we are merely His instruments of love. When our heart is full of His love and compassion, it has no room for envy, greed, bitterness, and the like. All kinds of evil will be displaced by acts of kindness and generosity. The selfish pursuit of pleasure, comfort or fame can never co-exist with the genuine desire to help others and make life more meaningful. One will displace the other. Superficial acts of piety are worthless if we do not care to share the blessings that God has given us. Covetousness and greed will disqualify us from the cleanliness of God’s kingdom.

Ecclesiasticus 3:29 puts it quite aptly: “As water quenches a flaming fire, so alms atone for sins.” But no amount of water can cleanse us or sanctify the food that we eat. It is sanctified by acts of charity, like giving alms to the poor.

As part of the celebration of our founding anniversary, our community once held a medical outreach program in a depressed barrio in Davao del Sur. We were all prepared to “soil ourselves in serving” the least of our brethren there, who were mostly dirt-poor farmers and fishermen. Little did we know that reaching out to them, curing their ailments, giving them our time, toil and treasure, as well as toys, old clothes and medicine, and feeding them with lugaw that we prepared ourselves, would be such a great cleansing of our souls. Truly, as Christ had said, it is in charity that the inside of our cups are made clean.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; see if there be any evil way in me, and lead me in the everlasting path.” (Psa 139:23-24.) Lord Jesus, fill us with Your love and increase our desire to be like You. Cleanse our hearts of every impure thought and selfish motives, and instead, help us to be more compassionate to the poor who are in need of our help. By acts of charity shall we be made clean and worthy to receive You in holy Communion. Amen.

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