Today’s passage is from Luke 11:37-12:12 (ESV):
Woes to the Pharisees and Lawyers
37 While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. 38 The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. 39 And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.
42 “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 43 Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. 44 Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.”
45 One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.” 46 And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. 47 Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed. 48 So you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their tombs. 49 Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ 50 so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, 51 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 required of this generation. 52 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.”
53 As he went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard and to provoke him to speak about many things, 54 lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.
Beware of the Leaven of the Pharisees
12 In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 2 Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 3 Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.
Have No Fear
4 “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. 5 But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. 7 Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Acknowledge Christ Before Men
8 “And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, 9 but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. 10 And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.11 And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”
This passage makes me excited to be a Pentecost people! Yes, the ethics preached on the sermon on the mount seem to be impossibly good, but God loves us down to the individual hairs on our head, and He sends his Spirit to give us power to carry out his decrees of cruciform love. Jesus rebukes the scholars of the law for telling people what to do, but not making any effort to help them carry out these decrees. They add to people’s burdens rather than lightening them (c.f. 11:46). We can infer, then, that God’s way is different than this and the promise of Pentecost is proof of this difference.
Sometimes Christian ethics can feel like a long list of rules and responsibilities. Don’t have sex before marriage; do tithe 10% of your income; don’t hold grudges, etc., etc. But, apparently, if we feel like Christianity is just a philosophy of living or a code of ethics, a set of things to do and not do, then we have gotten off track, for this is exactly the kind of unhelpful leadership that Jesus accuses the Pharisees and scholars of the law of practicing. For this reason, Jesus concludes this conversation in which he condemns the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and scholars with a discussion of the Spirit.
Spiritual leaders in the Church today ought to use their positions of power to encourage and build up their congregations, imploring the Spirit to enable these masses to march toward holiness and love boldly and self-sacrificially. The Pharisees and scholars, however, used their positions of power to highlight just how complex the law was, to hand down decrees on high and try to show off how well they followed them, separating themselves from the people they were meant to lead, trying to win honor and praise and grandeur for themselves by pushing down the people from above rather than going under them as servants and pushing them up. This is yet another example of the “last shall be first” morality and upside-down hierarchy Jesus preaches, lives, and—mostly clearly—dies to communicate.
Pope Francis is an example of a spiritual leader who takes the tact of being servant of the people rather than ruler from on high. He has made impromptu stops at the confessional booth—implying that, yes, even the Pope sins—and he has urged his Bishops and Priests to see themselves as mediators rather than arbiters of grace through the sacraments, especially Holy Communion. During his visit to the United States last year, he canceled a meeting with national leaders to visit a jail instead. I have heard lots of people comment that they aren’t much into Christianity, but they do like Pope Francis. To such people, I say: if you like Pope Francis, you’re going to love Jesus, for exactly in proportion to the degree to which Pope Francis has become a holy man, molded after the form of Jesus himself, is he commendable.
Jane Thomas ’15 is a former Ichthus editor and a Fulbright scholar studying the gut microbes of wild howler monkeys (A. pigra) in Mexico.