Reading: Luke 11.47-54
Jesus said, ‘Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your ancestors killed. So you are witnesses and approve of the deeds of your ancestors; for they killed them, and you build their tombs. Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, “I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute”, so that this generation may be charged with the blood of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be charged against this generation. Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.’
When he went outside, the scribes and the Pharisees began to be very hostile towards him and to cross-examine him about many things, lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.
Today’s reading adds to the list of ‘Woes’ that Jesus levels at the Pharisees and lawyers. Today, Jesus is charging the Pharisees with hypocrisy and the lawyers with a degree of obfuscation that actually prevents others from drawing into a closer relationship with God. Jesus’ warning in today’s reading is stark. Jewish tradition had placed the whole community in a difficult position. They built tombs for the ancient prophets and they honoured the prophets in those places. However, it was the ancestors of those tomb builders who persecuted and killed the prophets in the first place. Their action of building tombs carries the implicit message of support for the actions of their forebears. How can this be viewed as anything other than hypocrisy. The lawyers also come in for a greater degree of criticism today. They are accused of preventing people from entering into a deeper relationship with God by locking the relevant knowledge away, by placing it out of the reach of people who are not in their clique.
Religious hypocrisy is a terrible thing. To intentionally embrace or deny a love of God whilst following the opposite path is to deceive not only others, but ourselves. How can we be true to God if we cannot be true to ourselves? If what we say of our faith is clouded and unsure, then how can anyone, including ourselves, or God for that matter, trust what we say we believe. Similarly, building up barriers between God and other people is to take a burden of responsibility on our shoulders that none of us is strong enough to bear.
Today we are being called to be honest in our dealings with God and with others. God wants us to enter into a relationship with him, but that must be a relationship of honesty and openness. Let us pray for the strength to persist as that relationship develops and not be diverted by the opinions of others that lead us towards hypocrisy and obfuscation.