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March 20

Matthew 23, 27-28

Something to read

'Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.'
New Revised Standard Version

Something to think about

This illustration of hypocrisy in outward appearances is a daring one. The purpose of whitewashing tombs was not to make them look nice, but to make them stand out, so that people did not brush against them and unwittingly make themselves unclean.

Although they did indeed look better than tombs that have got dirty and have been left to the mercy of the weather, there's no escaping the fact that what's inside is unpleasant and ritually unclean.

Contrast this obsession with avoiding touching things – or people – that are considered to be unclean with Jesus' own ministry. He deliberately reached out to the sick and to women; he healed people, most notably lepers, by touching them.

Jesus' continuing criticism of the Pharisees is that their preoccupation with details of ritual cleanliness covered a multitude of sins. And there will be few of us who are not aware of a certain disconnect between our outer appearance and the reality inside us. Simply recognising that is a good first step to putting things right.

Something to do

Look around your home or your church for cupboards or drawers that hide chaos. As you tidy them up, think about something less tangible in your life that also needs to be put in order.

Something to pray

Lord God, you know all the secrets of our hearts. May your Holy Spirit so cleanse us that we may worship you with pure hearts and dirty hands that come from serving you in your world.

Today's contributor is the Rev Dr Paula Clifford, a former Head of Theology with Christian Aid, now Vicar of Minster Lovell (Oxon).


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