Insert text here.
If you were going on a backpacking trip, would you give more attention to the ring on your finger or the shoes on your feet? It's all a matter of lining up the priorities.
A certain Pharisee asked Jesus to dine with him. So He went in to eat. When the Pharisee saw it, he marveled that He had not first washed before dinner. Then the Lord said to him, "You Pharisees make the outside of the cup clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness.
"You tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass by justice and the love of God. You love the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. You are like graves which are not seen, and the men who walk over them are not aware of them."
Then one of the lawyers said to him, "Teacher, by saying these things You reproach us also." And he said, "Woe to you also. For you load men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. You bear witness that you approve of the deeds of your fathers; for they indeed killed the prophets, and you build their tombs.
"Woe to you, lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in you hindered." As He said these things to them, the scribes and Pharisees began to assail Him vehemently, and to cross-examine Him about many things, lying in wait for Him, and seeking to catch Him in something He might say, that they might accuse Him.
Luke 11:37-54 NKJV condensed
Picking and Choosing
When someone points out the error of our ways, it's not usually a pleasant experience. Jesus had a long list for the Pharisees. Outwardly clean, but inwardly scarred by greed and unkindness. Tithing to the minutest degree with herbs grown in the garden, but failing to give anything at all by way of compassion and justice to the common man. Loving instead the best seats in the congregation and the favored positions in society when all the while they deserved to be six feet under; underfoot, that is, in unmarked graves!
How would you like to be at the other end of that tongue lashing! It was not directed toward prostitutes, criminals or terrorists. This quarrel was pointed straight at the respectable leadership of the religious community. One of whom spoke a word of challenge. "Jesus, by saying these things you reproach us all."
How right you are, replied Jesus, and he continued his tirade of woes. You have blocked the doorway to the kingdom with many obstacles. Your rules and rituals have given God a bad name, and you do nothing to help the sojourner through the needless maze you have constructed. Your fathers killed the prophets; you contribute to their offense by building tombs. You reek of death and don't have a clue that the way to honor their pleas for righteous integrity is to live by their words.
It's not hard for us to visualize the raging resentment of the targeted audience. Whether there was truth in Jesus' words was irrelevant at this point. He had attacked them and they would fight back and, as soon as possible, take him out. First in a war of words, then in a rigged courtroom, up through the chain of command in an accommodating political system, and finally it would end on a Roman cross. Jesus would die, but truth is eternal.
What is hard for us to visualize is how to apply these words, not to the person in the next seat, but to our own lives. "Woe" is a terrible-sounding word. It's a warning that disaster looms ahead. Woe because we know the Scriptures but miss the heart of God contained therein. Instead of unlocking the entrance to God's kingdom, we shut the door in people's faces.
The scribes and Pharisees made heroes of dead prophets but killed the greatest prophet, the One in their midst. Woe to us if we make a hero of the Jesus from long ago and then fail to recognize him when he walks among us today. Verse 41of this chapter in the Message Bible reads, "Turn both your pockets and your hearts inside out and give generously to the poor; then your lives will be clean, not just your dishes and your hands."
Like this certain Pharisee, we routinely invite Jesus to our table, but the table is often set on a stage of falsehood and pretense. The point Jesus was making is that outwardly people appear upright, but inside they are a grave full of useless bones. How does this happen? Because we confuse our priorities. We focus on the letter of the Law, and miss the overriding spirit and life of the Lawgiver.
Most likely we are not much different than the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus' day. Do we love titles and places of honor? And prefer to hang out with those who drive nice cars, wear designer clothes and possess the latest gadgets. Wouldn't we rather erect monuments to the past than build houses for today's homeless?
Whenever Jesus spoke to the scribes and Pharisees, we should really listen. Unfortunately, Jesus did not have a high opinion of them. So if we want to avoid the sins of those self-righteous deadbeats, here's something we can do. Relegate the do's and don'ts of our precepts to the background. They probably don't allow room for us to be a Good Samaritan anyway. Then bring the qualities of loving kindness, justice and impartiality to the fore. The #1 rule in the kingdom of heaven is to love God; #2 is to love our "neighbor" as we love ourselves. Do this, and those dead bones will spring to life.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: What do you have on today which helps identify who you are?
Jesus is not one-dimensional; he has many faces: compassionate, angry, sad, joyful, strong, gentle, etc. What do you see in Jesus' face in this text?
Why did this Pharisee invite Jesus to dinner in the first place? Think of some possible motives.Suppose Jesus sat at your table. How do you think the conversation would go? Would you be critical of Jesus? Or want to argue about anything?
When you are criticized, how do you react? Do you ever stop to consider if there is truth in the criticism?
At your place of worship, how much importance is placed on your appearance? Do you have to dress a certain way in order to fit in? Would someone be welcome if they came in looking "shabby"? To whom are these matters of appearance important?According to Jesus what is more important than outward appearance, and what does the average congregation do about this bit of wisdom from Jesus?
Are we also long on following the letter of the law and short on obeying the heart of the law? Give some examples of this. What is the heart of "the law" as laid out in Scripture? Why do we spend a lot of time on things which are not important and little time on things of great importance? How do you decide what takes priority?
Name some religious people who turn you off to their brand of religion. What exactly makes you feel that way about them? What kind of actions give God a bad name? Examine your own life for any of these traits and behaviors.
Is it easier to follow rigid rules like a dress code, than to be a Good Samaritan and hold out your hand to a fallen traveler? Explain the difference between these two kinds of behavior.How is it possible for people to study the Bible and still miss the part about the grace and compassion of God? Is the Bible like a box of chocolates from which we can pick and choose?