Red Letter Year: 8/5

Luke 11.37-54

37 As Jesus was speaking, one of the Pharisees invited him home for a meal. So he went in and took his place at the table. 38 His host was amazed to see that he sat down to eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony required by Jewish custom. 39 Then the Lord said to him, “You Pharisees are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy — full of greed and wickedness! 40 Fools! Didn’t God make the inside as well as the outside? 41 So clean the inside by giving gifts to the poor, and you will be clean all over. 42 What sorrow awaits you Pharisees! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore justice and the love of God. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. 43 What sorrow awaits you Pharisees! For you love to sit in the seats of honor in the synagogues and receive respectful greetings as you walk in the marketplaces. 44 Yes, what sorrow awaits you! For you are like hidden graves in a field. People walk over them without knowing the corruption they are stepping on.”

45 “Teacher,” said an expert in religious law, “you have insulted us, too, in what you just said.”

46 “Yes,” said Jesus, “what sorrow also awaits you experts in religious law! For you crush people with unbearable religious demands, and you never lift a finger to ease the burden. 47 What sorrow awaits you! For you build monuments for the prophets your own ancestors killed long ago. 48 But in fact, you stand as witnesses who agree with what your ancestors did. They killed the prophets, and you join in their crime by building the monuments! 49 This is what God in his wisdom said about you: ‘I will send prophets and apostles to them, but they will kill some and persecute the others.’ 50 As a result, this generation will be held responsible for the murder of all God’s prophets from the creation of the world— 51 from the murder of Abel to the murder of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, it will certainly be charged against this generation. 52 What sorrow awaits you experts in religious law! For you remove the key to knowledge from the people. You don’t enter the Kingdom yourselves, and you prevent others from entering.”

53 As Jesus was leaving, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees became hostile and tried to provoke him with many questions. 54 They wanted to trap him into saying something they could use against him.


We have seen a lot of this before in Matthew 23, but Luke really ratchets up the tension by locating the whole thing inside a Pharisee’s home. In Matthew, Jesus is out teaching the crowd. On one hand, the more public setting exposes the criticism more widely (not following the praise in public, scold in private adage), but to walk into someone’s home and lambast the way Jesus does here seems even harsher (imo) than the public setting. 

The key addition that Luke makes is adding love to justice as the things they are deficient in and defining both of these as caring (or not in this case) for the poor. Make sure you get that: justice = the love of God. Every single human being is the object of God’s unlimited, unconditional, unrelenting, passionate love. Justice happens when we treat each other like we know this is true.

Jesus gives a pretty clear message to the religious leaders: stop crushing people. This critique of the religious leaders is the same that drove Mary to sing and Zechariah to prophesy. God sends prophets to turn people back to justice – which is the human practice of the love of God. The religious leaders reject that message and kill the prophets. They respond by crushing even more people, including Jesus.

And nothing much has changed. Religious leaders still crush people. We still struggle to practice justice. We still spend more time pronouncing the judgment and wrath of God than we spend declaring the love and affection of God.

Except everything has changed. The Crushed One became The Resurrected One. And The Empowering One. We can engage in practicing the love of God because we have the power of Jesus’ resurrection, the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and the commission of the Father to do so. We don’t have to settle for building monuments to the prophets we’ve killed. The best way to honor the prophets is to do what they said.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.