Exteriority, Interiority, and Alms

[Homily: Luke 11:37-41. Oct 14, 2014]

Upon being reprimanded for not observing the usual Jewish rituals for washing before eating, Jesus replies with a certain exasperation: “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?” (Lk. 11: 39-40).

Jesus points to the difference between the outside and the inside, between externality and internality, even as he insists one implies the other. You can polish and shine the outside of a silver cup until it glistens beautifully, but if inside it is filled with corrosion, rust and grime, can you drink of it?

Many of us live on this outside,exterior plane, merely of what is seen; it is the plane of superficiality rather than depth. We are anxious about external beauty (or lack of it): the pimples on our cheek, the blackheads on our nose, the fashionableness of what we wear; the impressions conveyed by our reports rather than the truth. We are concerned with external virtue: helping people, but for selfish, political gain. We are trapped in external religion: our prayers and devotions are for show – pakitang tao – not respecting nor mediating a relationship with God.

Jesus however points out: We are also interiority: “Did not the maker of the outside also make the inside?

Today, God’s invitation for us may be to appreciate this a bit more. We are not just what people see, nor even what we seem to be. But we are interiority, and are who we are within the way we define ourselves in freedom and relate to others in freedom. This includes the defining personal values we hold dear that manifest themselves in the way we relate with a relative, a friend, a member of my barkada, the community where I work, the larger human community where I live.

Remember the priest and the Levite who saw the wounded man on the road (Lk. 10:30-37)? They possessed all the trappings of religious learning and piety. But they could not find it within them to aid the person in need. The Samaritan, on the other had, whom the Jews reviled, did. We may reflect on what we are and do, because of what is within. Or, on the lie of what we seem to be, because of its lack of rootedness within.

In this context, Jesus makes a remarkable statement: “As to what is within, give alms, and behold, everything will be clean for you” (Lk. 11:41). Jesus points to almsgiving as a mark of genuine interiority. It is a statement that fits with Luke’s general concern with the neediness of the poor.

Most of us don’t like to part with money. Especially when it is hard-earned, we don’t like to throw it away. We are often attached to it. Indeed, money enables us to make certain choices – ultimately from within. I buy a chocolate bar, ice cream, or a celfon. I pay money for a car, a house, an insurance polity. I pay money for an education, a vacation, the pursuit of wealth, the pursuit of wisdom. How I use my money is indicative of me, not merely exteriorly but from within.

Jesus is pointing out that money can also be used to help people in need. Helping people in need is an appropriate way of being Christian, of Christian interiority.

Jesus, mind you, is talking about helping people genuinely. It has nothing to do with allowing yourselves to be duped by lazy people who seek to exploit your goodness. It has nothing to do with the critique against “hand outs” and just making people more dependent on you. It has nothing to do with trumpeted vanity that comes with giving. It has nothing therefore to do with the excuses we often make to avoid almsgiving.

Jesus is saying: For people in need, help. For this, you normally don’t have to look far. God sends you the people you are invited to help. The person in need may be very close to you. The alms through which you respond to that need may be very small. At other times, it may be heroic.

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

In this context, a final word on gratuity. We have all received much as gift. I think, if we are honest, despite all the work we do and all the achievements we chalk up, we will confess God has blessed us beyond deserving. This is warrant for us too to give gratuitously – from an interior sense of shared human community formed in God’s gratuity, from an interior sense of responsibility called forth by God’s generosity.

God cannot be outdone in generosity. That is a happy paradox in responding to the Lord’s invitation to give alms.

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About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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One Response to Exteriority, Interiority, and Alms

  1. Elizabeth Garrovillo says:

    Thank you for this, Fr. Joel. Very enlightening.

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