“Cleanliness is next to godliness.” True or False??


Our readings today have something in common; insistence on ritualistic cleansing laws while refusing to observe the greater good—giving to those in need! You’ve heard the expression: “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” That’s not in the Bible and it’s not true. Not that there’s no value to cleanliness, but it’s not among the highest values.

The Pharisees once again try to challenge Christ, trying to find fault with His teachings. We hear this theme so frequently that we can find ourselves getting aggravated. Who are they to challenge anything the Son of God has to share with us? However, if we are honest with ourselves, many of us judge other people’s intentions. Judging others is really beyond our capability. We can never know the intentions of another person. Surely we have enough to do, keeping our own intentions and actions in order. Christ turned to these Pharisees and said, “You Pharisees! You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but within you are filled with rapaciousness and evil. Fools! Did not He Who made the outside make the inside too?”

The Pharisees were very interested in cleanliness, in the washings of hands, dishes, and utensils, and they considered themselves wise, but Jesus called them “fools”. The apostle Paul said: “If any one of you thinks he is wise in a worldly way, he had better become a fool”. As St. Paul says in the first reading, if we try to be justified by observing the law, we separate ourselves from Christ. St. Paul says the only thing that counts is “faith working through love.” It’s so simple that we almost can’t believe it: Listen to Jesus. Love God. Care for and serve others. And the rest will take care of itself.

We clean our teeth, take showers, vacuum carpets, wash cars, clean streets, shampoo rugs, and use mouthwash. We take time and spend money to wash just about everything, when the highest priority should not be the outside appearance but the inside.

How often do we sincerely ask the Lord to wash us clean? “Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me”. How often do we go to Confession and celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Have we washed our robes in the blood of the Lamb? Do we stand clean before the Lord, “holy and immaculate, without stain or wrinkle or anything of that sort”?

Jesus’ blood is the strongest purifying agent possible. Only our unwillingness can prevent us from being clean and holy as He is holy.

Jesus tells the Pharisee to “give alms” so that “everything will be clean for you.” In other words, give and give some more if you want to please God. Giving to and serving others emanate from within, and that is where God dwells. No amount of legal observance that neglects compassion and assistance to those in need can ever please God. One might ask why Christ wants us to give alms. Giving of our means, time and/or talent reminds us that we are all brothers and sisters on earth. It helps to keep us humble.

Let us not get into the position of the Pharisees who judged Christ as we judge our neighbor. As St. James says, “There is but one Lawgiver and Judge, who is able to save and destroy. Who then are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:11,2)

Jesus goes on and says: “Wherever your treasure lies, there your heart will be” . If we treasure a healthy bank account balance, our heart will be on our bank account balance. If we treasure the things of God, our hearts won’t be tight, but rather open. To all who fear that the Father will not provide, Jesus proclaims: “Do not live in fear, little flock. It has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom. Sell what you have and give alms”.

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