For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law. You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.
While he was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to dine with him; so he went in and took his place at the table. The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not first wash before dinner. Then the Lord said to him, "Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you."
"Faith" in Saint Paul's sense has as much to do with fidelity as with humble acceptance of God's grace. The Holy Spirit is present throughout the universe, slowly but surely revealing God's invisible realities. Thus the stakes of life are high. It is not a matter of "natural goodness" but of fidelity to a supernatural spirit within each person. The law of the flesh must give way to the law of the spirit. We are set free from laws about circumcision and legal cleanliness, clean and unclean foods, so that we can follow the more demanding law of the spirit, which is love and everlasting fidelity.
Jesus makes the demand more explicit, "give what you have as alms." love, therefore, is to be concerned about the needy and generous in attending to them. Then, he concluded, "all will be wiped clean for you." This is a curious thought. The poor and the needy generally have a more difficult time with cleanliness than the wealthy and the leisured class. The poor work longer hours, are involved with dirt, grease and dust, and do not have at hand all the conveniences of hot and cold running water, privacy and energy. Could this be why Jesus had not properly washed his hands before sitting down to eat at the Pharisee's house?
We know from experience that different things are important to different people. What is important to me is not necessarily important to someone else. We can get upset when something we think is important is not taken seriously by someone else who has a connection with us. In the gospel, Jesus is invited to a meal by a Pharisee. The Jewish ritual of washing in a certain way before meals was clearly a matter of importance to Jesus' host, but it wasn't an issue of any significance to Jesus. Other matters were more important to him. He tells his host that external ritual washings are far less important to him than the values and attitudes that we carry within us. Jesus looks for that inner disposition that finds expression in almsgiving, for example. This was a very important Jewish practice, this willingness to give generously from our resources to those in need.
This encounter reminds us that what we think important is not necessarily what the Lord considers important. What we value is not always what he values. We need to spend our lives trying to imbibe his values, his priorities, and allowing them to shape our hearts and minds. As Paul says, we are to put on the mind of Christ. We need to listen to the gospels in particular, if our priorities are to be in line with the Lord's priorities, if our hearts are to reflect something of his heart.