Alms for Atonement

Luke 11: 37-41
Rom 1: 16-25 / Psa 19

. . . give alms, and behold, everything will be clean for you.
(Luke 11:41)

What rituals in our religion
We seek for our purification,
When all we need is compassion
To the weakest for our salvation.

After Jesus had spoken, a Pharisee invited Him to dine at his home. He entered and reclined at table to eat. The Pharisee was amazed to see that He did not observe the prescribed washing before dinner. Then the Lord said to him, “Oh you Pharisees! Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, inside you are full of plunder and evil. 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)


Our Lord was fully aware that His non-observance of the ritual washing of the hands before a meal would shock His host, but He intentionally disregarded this outward display of piety to teach this Pharisee a lesson on transparency and charity as the way to genuine purity. External purification mattered little compared to the righteousness in a man’s heart.

The Pharisees had become so engrossed in the performance of certain rituals according to their Talmud that they believed being faithful in their observance was enough to keep them righteous before God and in the eyes of men, even if they indulged themselves in greed, envy and malevolent schemes (against Jesus). But our Lord knew their thoughts, and boldly called them “fools!” for failing to see that they cannot hide their plunder and evil from God “Who made the outside (and) inside also”. The best way to cleanse the greed and all forms of evil in their hearts would be to practice charity and almsgiving.

“He who oppresses the poor blasphemes his Maker, but he who is merciful to the needy glorifies Him” (Prov.14:31). “Just as water quenches fire, so alms atone for sins” (Sir.3:29). The Pharisees had long neglected this important practice of the ancients, where a part of the tithes and remains of harvests were given to widows and orphans (Deut.24:17-22). Jesus was reminding them of their negligence due to their preoccupation with their empty rituals directed for their own “sanctification”. True holiness lies in positive acts of kindness and compassion to the needy, especially the widows, beggars and homeless orphans.

Charity has always been the message of God even as far back as the time of the patriarchs. We are glad to note that most if not all of our parish churches continue to provide charitable outreaches for the poor such as the Caritas program, wherein those who have more in life can extend help to those who have less. Jesus has told us in many instances in the Gospel that if we truly love God, then we must show our love and mercy to the least of His children. How much love and gratitude do we give back to God when the second collection comes around after the holy communion at Sunday mass? “Give, and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.” (Luke 6:38)

Teach us, dear Lord, to be generous and kind to the needy. If we can be generous in giving to our church, then we must also be as generous if not even more so to the needy who beg for alms. After all, in their want they are helping us to atone for our sins, so they must be there for our cleansing. Amen.

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