Reading: Luke 11.42-46
Jesus said to the Pharisee, ‘Woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practised, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love to have the seat of honour in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the market-places. Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without realizing it.’
One of the lawyers answered him, ‘Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us too.’ And he said, ‘Woe also to you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them.’
This week we have been challenged by Jesus, in the most direct and uncompromising of ways, to set aside human wisdom and show, and to become bearers (prophets) of God’s message in this dark and confused world. Today, there is no let up in that message.
To put the readings of today and tomorrow into context, we need to ask: ‘Who are the Pharisees in today’s world?’ First century Pharisees were certainly experts in Jewish law and practice, but they were more than that. First century Pharisees formed a socio-political pressure group that used its specialist religious knowledge to oppress and control others. It was the whole picture of what it meant to be a Pharisee that Jesus was criticizing.
The theologian Tom Wright sums up what Jesus is criticizing in these words: the detailed outward observance that left the heart untouched, the piety that boosted self-important, the pollution that appeared as clean and wholesome. In his critical observations of the Pharisees and the lawyers, Jesus was depicting a world of total devastation, a world totally devoid of God’s hope and joy.
In the face of this message we need to ask ourselves where Jesus would place us in the grand scheme of world affairs? As we go to church services, do we allow our hearts to be touched by God, or are we too busy being offended by the words and actions of other people? As we pray to God, do we try to enter into a deeper and deeper relationship with our Creator, or do we just want to be recognized as a ‘prayerful’ and ‘pious’ person? As we celebrate and rejoice in the wonder of God’s creation, do we value and honour that creation, or are we happy to squander and waste so much of what God has given us, even if that means others will go without?
So, where are we in the world? Are we with the Pharisees and lawyers, or are we with Christ? It is time we made up our minds and did something about it.