You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth. (Matthew 23:27)
What would you think if someone called you a “whitewashed tomb”? If you had lived during Jesus’ times, you would have been terribly insulted. In his era, tombs were usually carved into a rocky hillside and protected from marauders by a heavy stone door. Oftentimes these tombs were hidden in the landscape, which could be inconvenient because Judaic tradition believed that any contact with a tomb—especially the bones or bodies inside a tomb—would render someone “unclean.” The purification process after such contact could take up to seven days.
So to help prevent accidental contact with a tomb, every year around the beginning of March, graves were whitewashed, or marked with lime powder, which would give them a beautiful whitish glow. And so the tombs would become more conspicuous, keeping people from accidently rendering themselves unclean.
As we see, Jesus is being extremely graphic in his words with the scribes and Pharisees—both graphic and pointed. Such an insult must have had a shocking effect on his audience. Even today, the term “whitewash” is used to indicate when someone is deliberately covering up his or her mistakes.
Jesus doesn’t want us to be whitewashed tombs either. He doesn’t want us to project a fake glowing façade that hides any interior mess. He doesn’t want us to try to cover up our mistakes and pretend we are someone we aren’t. No, Jesus wants us to be real, inside and out. He wants us to find the courage to open up the unclean parts of our lives and ask for his help.
Here is one way to lower your guard and let Jesus in. The next time you receive the Living Bread at Mass, tell Jesus about one area of your life that needs some attention. Imagine him entering that part of your heart and scrubbing it clean. As you keep praying, see if you can sense his presence. What is he saying to you? How is he helping you? Finally, listen as he tells you how beautiful and valuable you are. You are not a whitewashed tomb; you are his beloved child!
“Dear Lord, open my heart, and clean it out with your unconditional love.”
Father Ed Bakker
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne