There’s a famous hamburger restaurant out West called In-N-Out Burger. All the natives out that way swore it was the best hamburger joint in the world. Well, I tried it when I was out that way and my verdict: Eeh, it was OK. But the name, great name signifying quick food for inside or take out.
But it also reminds me of “inside and outside.” And that idea has all kinds of ramifications. So much so that a whole slew of colloquialisms, sayings, and quotes come to mind. The best ones always seem to come from my grandmother! She use to say “Pretty on the inside means more than pretty on the outside.” Of course there’s also that mean old saying “Beauty is only skin deep but ugly goes to the bone!” I like Mawmaw’s saying better.
There’s something deep seated in we humans that both compels us and repels us. We spend millions of dollars in this society on treatments that beautify our outward appearance. The whole fashion industry is built of the premise that looking good is vital to our existence, and even Saturday Night Live’s Billy Crystal use to quip “It’s more important to look good than to feel good.” But we also insist we are repelled by shallow existence. Let’s face it, we live in a world where appearance matters to us more than we care to admit.
In today’s Gospel Lesson, our Lord Jesus confronts a group of leaders who were absolutely committed to appearing pious and down to the very details of their clothing. But “looks can be deceiving.” The Lord confronted these men with the harsh reality that their outsides didn’t match their insides. And the reason this was so is that these men had gotten the prescription for true piety backwards.
Look at Matthew 23:23-28: The Lord said to the Jews who had come to him, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you cleanse the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of extortion and rapacity. You blind Pharisee! first cleanse the inside of the cup and of the plate, that the outside also may be clean.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”
When God in the Flesh says “woe” to you, you better bet that’s not a good sign.
The religious leaders had gotten the process of “cleansing” backwards. They thought “the clothes make the man” when in reality true purity starts from the inside and works its way out. Beginning with personal repentance, personal evaluation, personal focus is the ONLY path that leads to authentic outward beauty. Our eyes are easily fooled by appearances, but our hearts reveal the true us!
Today, it is wonderful to have such respect for yourself that you care for your appearance, but the subtle trap and temptation to stop there is deadly to our spiritual lives. We must at least put as much attention to our spiritual beauty as we do our outward appearance. If the regiment you go through each day to prepare to go to work, out to meet friends, go on a date isn’t equaled by the time you spend beautifying your soul, then your “outside” has become more important that your “inside” and that always leads to woe! Be beautiful, indeed! Be beautiful to God in your soul and the outside will shine with true beauty!