Faithful God, I come to you today with thanksgiving for your work of grace in me.
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)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
‘God has spoken by his prophets / spoken his unchanging Word, / each from age to age proclaiming / God the One, the righteous Lord.’1
The Pharisee wanted to hear more from Jesus, but got more than he bargained for. The stage was set for confrontation when Jesus declined the ritual washing. Jesus was refusing to participate in the Pharisees’ pre-meal ceremony in which washing was not about cleanliness but supposedly making everything – people and utensils – ritually clean. Such fastidious routines were a mockery of true spiritual health. The Pharisees even tithed portions of their herbs and spices to obey the smallest detail of the law, but they were still unclean, like someone unwittingly stepping on a grave.2 Reducing obedience to God to a plethora of minute rules, they neglected justice and mercy. The prophets had long ago railed against this spiritual blindness: ‘I hate … your religious festivals … Even though you bring me burnt offerings … I will not accept them … But let justice roll on like a river.’3 We too must be aware of empty ritual. Kneeling, raising hands, even singing are not acceptable to God unless they spring from humble and merciful hearts.
The lawyers probably regretted that they had joined the confrontation. Jesus castigated them, as privileged people with scriptural learning who perpetuated the spiritual blindness of their religious predecessors. Abel and Zechariah (v 51), the first and last murder victims in the Hebrew Scriptures,4 symbolized all the innocent dead of the past. The addition of the ‘apostles’ (v 49) opens the image to future martyrdom. The lawyers held in their hands the key to God’s kingdom but, blind to it, they could not recognize the kingdom in Jesus nor assist others less privileged than themselves to see it. This is a stern warning to those of us who hold the responsibility of interpreting the Scriptures to others.
May the Lord of the Word help us always to seek and find him in its pages and to share truthfully with others its news of God and his kingdom.
Jesus, help me to see myself as you see me, help me to will for change where I need to be more like you. I want to please you in all that I am and do.
1 George Wallace Briggs, 1875–1959 2 Num 19:16–18 3 Amos 5:21–24 4 Gen 4:8; 2 Chr 24:20,21; Matt 23:35
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