Luke 11:37-52

This passage splits neatly into two, with three woes on each side. Jesus – never one to miss a teaching opportunity – uses the Pharisee’s comment about washing to talk about true cleanness, which involves what’s inside not outside. This is emphasised when he criticises the Pharisees for not giving to the poor, despite the fact that they tithe everything down to their garden herbs. The problem isn’t rigourously sticking to the letter of the law, they should have been interested in justice and the love of God which would have compelled them to give anyway. They are also condemned for being power- and attention-hungry and for being like “open graves”. The latter may be a reference to the fact that contact with a grave made someone unclean (Numbers 16:19). The fact that the Pharisees’ lives should have been upright meant that people would follow that assuming that they were doing well – so unknowingly they were unacceptable to God.

The first charge against the lawyer (who would have done better to keep his mouth shut!) is that he loads burdens on people – by tracking down and enforcing every detail of the law – but will not help to lift them. Secondly, this generation of lawyers is counted guilty of the blood of all the prophets. The A-Z of prophets in v51 is really chronological. Abel (Genesis 4) was the first and Zechariah (2 Chronicles 24) was the last of God’s people to be murdered in the Hebrew Old Testament (which ended at Chronicles) so these two names symbolically span the course of Jewish history. By “building the tombs” for the prophets their fathers murdered (which means not condemning the murders?) and by persecuting the prophets and apostles who were sent to them this generation is as guilty as the men who killed Abel and Zechariah. The final thing is that they haven’t entered knowledge, and even worse is that they have hindered others from entering. Again, because they are the leaders, their actions affect a lot of followers which is why they need especially harsh words. By pretending that the point of religion and the Law was to make yourself perfect before God, they made it harder for people to see the truth of what Jesus was saying. The church today has been guilty of much the same thing – otherwise why would the average punter on the street think what they do about ‘being a Christian’. We need to dial down the Law and dial up Grace, justice and the love of God.

Heavenly Father, I’m sorry that I often do the things I’m supposed to do for entirely the wrong reasons. Would you keep awake in me a true love for justice and for you. Thankyou for your amazing Grace, and let that be the one consistent message that everyone I meet sees. Amen.

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