Luke 11: 37 – 54 Woes on the Pharisees and the experts in the law
When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal.
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. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But now as for what is inside you – be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.
‘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 practised the latter without leaving the former undone.
‘Woe to you, Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the market-places.
‘Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which people walk over without knowing it.’
One of the experts in the law answered him, ‘Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also.’
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.
‘Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your ancestors who killed them. So you testify that you approve of what your ancestors did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs. 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.” Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, 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.
‘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.’
When Jesus went outside, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to oppose him fiercely and to besiege him with questions, waiting to catch him in something he might say.
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Jesus was invited to eat with one of the Pharisees. This was not a private meal; it was packed with Pharisees and experts in the law. I wonder if they thought they would be able to shout Jesus down if he wasn’t surrounded by the disciples and the crowds who flocked to listen to him?
The atmosphere must have been antagonistic, because as soon as Jesus reclined at table he was criticised for not performing the ‘correct’ ritual washing. In response, Jesus launched a devastating verbal attack on the assembly.
I made a list of their sins that he pinpointed.
Greed. Wickedness. Status-loving. Tokenism. Secret, hidden corruption. Exploitation. Nullifying the message of the prophets. Taking away the key to knowledge, while not entering it themselves.
In contrast to these, Jesus set three virtues that he said they should be practising.
Being generous to the poor. Justice. Demonstrating the love of God.
Every single one of the sins is directed towards increasing the status of the sinner at the expense of the weak.
Every single one of the virtues would act to protect the weak and affirm their value to God.
This teaching shows us what St Luke considers to be the heart of Jesus’ message. To follow Jesus means to express the love of God in the world. This necessarily requires us to be concerned for social justice and generous to the poor.
I would go further. If we are to avoid the sins listed, we must recognise and respect (or love) others. Because greed hurts others, wickedness hurts others, status-seeking hurts others by putting them down, tokenism, hidden corruption, exploitation, nullifying the message of the prophets and taking away the key of knowledge, all these hurt others.
God loves every single human being. He loves those I love, certainly, but he also loves everybody else, including those who have hurt me, wish to exploit me, and may cause me harm in the future. They are all precious to him.
They must be precious to us too.
Thank you that you love me and that I am precious to you. Thank you for your love for all people. Help me to understand more and more clearly how precious we all are in your sight.
In Jesus’ name, Amen