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When we meet in person, we share our joys and concerns with each other. If you have prayer requests to share, you can add them to the comments on this post. When you are ready, use this prayer to get started.
Heavenly Father, help us to be authentic Christians. Help us to set ourselves aside for a moment. In our lives, our thoughts and our prayers, help us to care deeply about what those around us are going through today, to think about the trauma, the pain and the grief others are experiencing and how we might lift their burden a bit through our words or actions. Help to us to think about times when our own words or actions might have added to others’ burdens or set a bad example. Forgive us, Lord, and help us to do better. Help us to live as Christians from the inside out. In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.
Today's lesson is on Luke 11:37-44.
After the creation of modern money, an inevitable invention followed: counterfeit money. For example, ancient counterfeiters minted coins made from metals that were less valuable than the authentic coins. The counterfeit coins were dipped in silver to mimic the real coins. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, fraudsters clipped the edges of authentic coins in order to extract bits of the precious metals. From those clippings, they would create a counterfeit coin.
Contemporary money has undergone developments to limit counterfeiters. Many modern coins have grooved or milled edges to show that none of the valuable precious metals have been removed. These efforts, while preventing some counterfeiters, have not done away with the practice altogether. Profits await the successful counterfeiter.
People sometimes “counterfeit” themselves by pretending to be someone they are not. Scandals arise when people say they believe or value one thing but act in a way that opposes that value. Jesus had no tolerance for hypocritical behavior, especially from the religious leaders of his day.
The Gospel of Luke, along with the book of Acts, makes up a two-volume work that describes Jesus’s life and teaching and how it continued in the early church after Jesus’s resurrection and ascension.
Today’s scripture is part of a section in which Jesus teaches and heals while on his way to Jerusalem. In today’s lesson, Jesus shares a meal with a Pharisee.
The Pharisees were the most pious among the Jewish religious leaders. They attempted to follow the Law of Moses faithfully. To help them do that, they established a set of traditions and rules for all aspects of life that would make it even more difficult to violate the Law. This was like a “fence” around the Law. However, their zeal for keeping these traditions sometimes kept them from seeing the purpose of the Law itself.
Two people (verses 37-41)
Jesus had been teaching the crowds along the way about wickedness and judgment. At this moment, a Pharisee comes up to him and invites him to eat with him. In Jesus’s time, it was a common practice to invite a teacher to a meal. It allowed the teacher to demonstrate his insight and wisdom in a more intimate setting. But sharing a meal together in Jesus’s time was also a sign of acceptance of the person with whom you ate. For this reason, when the teacher accepted the invitation, it brought a measure of honor to the host. That is also why people avoided extending dinner invitations to social outcasts.
Hand-washing was one of the important rituals the Pharisees adhered to in a variety of situations, but especially before meals. In our passage for today, therefore, the Pharisee is surprised when Jesus does not wash his hands before the meal. It is clear from other passages that Jesus did not have any problems with washing itself. It seems, instead, that he did this intentionally, just to provoke a response that led to a teaching moment.
When Jesus notices the Pharisee’s surprise, he talks about how the Pharisees make sure the outside of their cup and dish are clean, but they neglect the inside. It becomes clear that Jesus is not talking about literal tableware but about people, when he adds that “inside you are full of greed and wickedness.” In other words, he was saying, the Pharisees were concerned about external practices and appearances, but their attention should be on the inside — on their hearts and their minds.
Jesus calls such Pharisees and people who think as they did foolish. He notes that God created human beings — both the external physical parts and our internal mental parts where character and affections are formed. We should not be concerned only about the outward part. We should be concerned about being the people God wants us to be on the inside. When that is our focus, acts of compassion and generosity will naturally flow from us.
Three woes (verses 42-44)
Next Jesus pronounces a series of “woes” upon the Pharisees and those who follow their example. The Hebrew prophets often used the term “woe” in the Old Testament to pronounce approaching pain and doom upon certain people. (See, for example, Amos 6.)
The reason for the first woe is that the Pharisees paid diligent attention to relatively unimportant aspects of their faith while ignoring the most important aspects. Because the Law called for Jews to give a tithe of their goods, the Pharisees went as far as to give a tenth of herbs such as mint and rue, which often grew wild and would be difficult to estimate. However, when it came to seeking justice and loving God, they showed little concern. Such requirements should have been their greatest concern.
The heart of the Law, as Jesus states elsewhere, is the command to love God (Deuteronomy 6:5 and Matthew 22:36-38) and to love others (Leviticus 19:18 and Matthew 22:39). God’s people observe the command to love God by loving others. Instead, Jesus says, the Pharisees were attempting to show their love for God with meticulous precision while completely ignoring the command to love others. What’s more, they took pride in their strict observances instead of living lives marked by mercy and justice. (Micah 6:8)
That brings Jesus to the reason for his second “woe.” The Pharisees, he says, love public displays of importance. They love being seated in the most important seats of the synagogue and being greeted with respect in the marketplace. The problem, it seems, is that a major underlying reason for the Pharisees’s faith was to draw attention to themselves and not to show love for God or for others.
The final “woe” is because of the example the Pharisees set for others. Because they were seen as leaders in the faith and as examples for others to follow, their misguided faith caused others to distort the faith as well. Jesus uses the analogy of people walking over an unmarked grave.
Jewish people were deemed defiled and ritually unclean if they came in contact with a dead body. The Pharisees, Jesus is saying, were like unmarked graves which people walk over and thus become defiled without even knowing it. By example, they were promoting an idea that being a faithful Jew was only about adhering to ceremonial laws and not about caring for others. Those who saw them and followed their example might think they were giving pure and faithful lives. In fact, without realizing it, they were defiled by their lack of attention to the most important commandments, just as the Pharisees were.
Born into slavery in Edenton, North Carolina, Harriet Jacobs understood firsthand the horror of being controlled by other people. She suffered inhumane conditions as a slave. Her slave master sexually harassed her and, when she did not submit, he threatened to sell her children. Instead, she hid in a tiny crawl space under the roof of her grandmother’s house. For seven years she hid in the space so small that she could not stand up, until she managed to escape to the North, where she was united with her children and her brother.
She detailed her experiences in her autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, which she wrote under the pseudonym Linda Brent. In the book, she questioned how the religious leaders of her day could ignore slavery or even use Scripture to justify it. She wondered whether they were blind or hypocrites.
The Pharisees of Jesus’s day acted hypocritically. Although their public displays of observance to the Law portrayed them as devoted and faithful Jews, their actions toward others revealed hearts that cared only about themselves. They had failed to show mercy and justice. They had become prideful. They were a deadly influence on others.
Hypocrisy is still an issue today. Where do hypocritical impulses arise in your heart?
In many ways, faults similar to those Jesus pointed out in the Pharisees can be found in people today. The Pharisees prioritized outward displays of holiness, while failing to do the important work of love, mercy, and justice. Pursuing counterfeit displays of holiness, while potentially easier than going after what God requires, leaves people as hypocrites. God wants his people to experience holiness in all aspects of their lives.
Followers of Jesus must remember to honor the commands to love God, show justice, and demonstrate merciful love, above any other traditions. Only then will believers exercise a “pure” religion before God (James 1:27). A failure to do so indicates that one’s heart has not been transformed.
Consider the following questions: Does your behavior lead you to love God more deeply? Does your behavior lead you to act justly or advocate for justice for others? If you can answer positively to both questions, then you are on the right track to loving God and your neighbor.
Heavenly Father, we desire to be holy people. Take away our need to impress others, and impress on us the image of your Son, Jesus Christ. Show us how we might be generous with the gifts you have given us so that we might love you and our neighbors. In the name of your Son, Jesus. Amen.
Questions for discussion
This week's benediction is from the American Standard Version.
Next week's lesson is on Luke 14:1-6.
We are a small, rural Presbyterian church in southwestern Pennsylvania.