The reading for this week is Luke 11:37 through the end of chapter 12. In this passage we have Jesus issuing a warning to not be afraid and to follow him at all costs, to trust God and not worry, to be ready for his return, a realization that following Jesus will strain some relationships, and how to make right choices. In this article I want to focus on the warnings Jesus gives to the Pharisees and experts in the law in Luke 11:37-54.
Jesus was invited to the house of a Pharisee for dinner, something that would have been considered an honor for this man to host such a famous teacher as Jesus. But because Jesus didn’t follow the cultural norm of ceremonial washing before the meal, the Pharisees were shocked. Jesus used this as a jumping off point for addressing some other cultural practices that went against his teaching.
I would encourage you before you finish this article to stop now and read this passage in Luke in its entirety and underline or highlight the reasons behind the “woe”, the correction Jesus suggests, and the consequences of their sinful actions as told by Jesus. It’s interesting to see the issues at play here. I now want to look at a few of these and comment.
The first correction Jesus brings to the Pharisees is to be generous to the poor (v. 41). It’s very clear what Jesus is calling his followers to do, yet for some reason many struggle to be generous toward those who struggle financially. Jesus doesn’t leave any room for compromise here. They also didn’t pursue justice or a love of God, but rather focused on the external actions (v. 42).
The Pharisees were also prideful, wanting the best seats and greetings (praises) from others (v. 43). It’s clear that a follower of Jesus shouldn’t seek things things, but rather pursue humility. Jesus indicates their actions, policies, and beliefs make unsuspecting people unclean just like unmarked graves (vs. 44). Pharisees held rules and regulations that went far beyond what the Torah required. A person who simply followed the Scriptures to the best of their ability would likely be guilty of the Pharisees’ rules. It seems the Torah experts were also loading down believers with these rules without providing any guidance (v. 46).
From history we know that in 1st century Jerusalem many monuments and tombs honoring long deceased prophets were being constructed at a rapid pace. It seems they were trying to profit off of this endeavor, or at least receive honor for doing this. In doing so, Jesus indicates they are as guilty as those who killed the prophets because they approve of these actions (v. 48) Jesus further indicates that the generation he was speaking to would be held responsible for the deaths of all the prophets , likely because they were about to put Jesus to death, the Messiah that all other prophets pointed toward (v.50-51).
The one that haunts me most is verse 52. “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.” – Luke 11:52
Have we ever been guilty of “hindering those who were entering” into the knowledge of God? I pray we never burden those seeking God with endless rules and regulations that Jesus never called us to. That’s exactly what the Pharisees and experts in the law had done. Jesus clearly condemned such actions, as should we. May we never ignore Scripture for it is the true and living Word of God. But we should never make it difficult for those who are turning to God by burdening them with things that Scripture doesn’t teach (Acts 15:10,19).