Lord, keep us from the dreaded disease of hypocrisy.
Read LUKE 11:37–54
Woes on the Pharisees and the Experts in the Law
37 When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. 38 But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal.
39 Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.
42 “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.
43 “Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces.
44 “Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which people walk over without knowing it.”
45 One of the experts in the law answered him, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also.”
46 Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.
47 “Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your ancestors who killed them. 48 So you testify that you approve of what your ancestors did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs. 49 Because of this, God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.’ 50 Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all.
52 “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.”
53 When Jesus went outside, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to oppose him fiercely and to besiege him with questions, 54 waiting to catch him in something he might say.
New International Version (NIV)
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“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:8).
Jesus is a proponent of heartfelt faith: our inner engagement with God, rather than outward ritual, is what counts. In this he is directly in line with the Old Testament prophets. In our passage today he identiﬁes some of those inner qualities: generosity to the poor, fundamental justice and the love of God. This does not invalidate the outward: both are required (42).
It is widely believed that the Pharisees get bad press from Jesus— we can see it in his various condemnations, including today’s lesson. But this could be a case of the ﬁercest debates being with people with whom we are closest. The Pharisees are serious about what they believe and probably more in line with Jesus in many respects than other the Jewish groups. They are mainly lay people who take the Law seriously. And not all of them are hostile to Jesus, as the invitation from this Pharisee indicates (37). Yet he gives them both barrels, and on more than one occasion. Perhaps they could be irritating with their scrupulous adherence to detail, and perhaps they take pleasure in judging others. They are worthy adversaries in debate but self-righteous in their dealings with others.
More seriously, however, they illustrate a trap set for all religious people. They major on the minors and minor on the majors. Their priorities are out of joint. They stand in judgment of people for minor offences, giving no consideration for the smallest infraction. We know the type, since they are still with us (and perhaps we belong to their number). The words of verses 47–51 are a penetrating insight into human psychology. The Pharisees lionize the prophets of the past, while exhibiting the characteristics of those who killed them (47). What they are missing by a mile is the transformation of the heart, the one item that matters above all.
“Good people bring good things out of the good stored up in their heart” (Luke 6:45, TNIV).
Lord, always keep our priorities straight so that we do not strain out gnats while swallowing camels.