Thursday of Week 28 of Ordinary Time – Gospel

Commentary on Luke 11:47-54

More strong words from Jesus against the Pharisaic mentality. Today the charge is of hypocrisy:

Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your ancestors killed.

The people build monuments to remember the prophets of old but, those same prophets were killed by their ancestors. On the one hand, they are building the monuments as an act of atonement, while they themselves have exactly the same attitudes as their ancestors. They do not listen to their own teaching.

Jesus utters words which he identifies as “the wisdom of God”:

I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute…

It is not a quotation from the Old Testament or any other book known to us. It could refer to God speaking through Jesus (the Word, the Wisdom of God) or presenting in quotation form God’s decision to send prophets and apostles, even though they would be rejected.

Jesus is basically saying that the mission of the Church (apostles) is linked with the mission of the Old Testament prophets, who, like Jesus’ disciples, suffered and, in some cases, died at the hands of their contemporaries. Jesus, of course, himself will be one of them, the last and greatest Prophet.

Jesus says the scholars of the Law carry with them guilt for the killing of every good person and every prophet since the murder of Abel down to that of Zechariah. The murder of Abel by his brother Cain is recorded in Genesis 4:8, the opening book of the Old Testament, and that of Zechariah, son of Jehoiada in 2 Chronicles 24:20-22. This latter book is regarded as the closing of the Hebrew Testament by the Jews. It is like our describing the whole Bible in terms of “from Genesis to Revelation”. Jesus was referring to the history of martyrdom right through the whole of the Old Testament.

There is one final attack against the Scribes and their way of thinking and acting. They interpret the Law in such a way that they make it inaccessible to the ordinary person. And, what is worse, they do not observe it themselves:

For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.

They kept both themselves and the people in ignorance of the true way to salvation and wholeness. As it is put in Matthew’s gospel:

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 23:13)

One wonders how many of our Church leaders, teachers and theological and moral ‘experts’ have not done exactly the same thing over the years and down to the present day? How many Catholic parents and teachers have made the Christian message basically inaccessible to the young, and then we wonder why they have “no interest in religion”?

Not surprisingly, all these attacks only increased the hostility of the Pharisees and the religious leaders against Jesus. They got him to speak on a multitude of religious questions hoping that he would convict himself out of his own mouth. As far as they were concerned, they were more than successful.

What they did not realise was that Jesus was operating from a completely different vision of what life is really about. His new wine could not fit into their old wineskins.

The question for each one to ask is: Do I share the vision of Jesus? What does ‘Christianity’ mean to me?

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