Today’s Scripture Readings
All this week in the Gospel readings Jesus has been criticizing the Pharisees for being insincere and taking advantage of their positions. Not surprisingly at the end of today’s Gospel Luke makes the point, “the Pharisees began to act with hostility toward him … they were plotting to catch him in something he might say.” No big surprise, given Jesus’ treatment of them.
Also remember that Pharisees, Scribes and Lawyers were the privileged, the religious elite of their day. They made the rules. So we know Jesus wasn’t afraid to be blunt about things he thought powerful people were doing wrong. But the question is, what does this Gospel have to say to us today?
Of course, nobody today is oppressing others by creating unrealistic demands on them. Nobody puts down people they have power over … wouldn’t that be nice? We are certainly aware of prejudices in society at large, but do we recognize that behavior in ourselves?
Let’s consider, for a moment, Galatians and the Psalm for today. Paul’s letter to the Galatians tells about how God has chosen us and saved us through the action of Jesus. We have come to believe that we are forgiven for things we do wrong and Jesus’ life was an announcement of God’s intention for us to be free, and happy together. If we want to know what is important in this life we simply need to look at Jesus, he sums it up in the way he lived and what he said.
The Psalm is essentially a celebration of the same thing. God saves us from guilt and fear and we should be really happy about it. We have reason to be pleased about our faith, to feel that God has blessed us. That can be a good thing.
I think the question that Jesus is pointing to in the Gospel is this: the Pharisees, Scribes and lawyers all knew the details of their faith, they too knew the history. The prophets were their own people. In fact, they were building monuments to them all the time. But these same Pharisees weren’t paying attention to what that history and what those prophets had to say. They were burying them all over again. They liked the privileges, the power and the prestige that comes with office, they liked knowing they have been saved by their religious practice, by their faith. Or so they thought.
We may not be people who wield political or religious power but we may have to be careful we don’t get too smug about what is ours, whether it’s what we believe, what we think we have or what we have accomplished. We need to remember that Jesus was always fighting for people who were at the edge of society. The people who were outcasts, people who were looked down upon because of how they lived, who they were related to or what they didn’t know. We have to take that seriously. We too, probably have groups of people with whom we are uneasy. People we might refer to as “those people” when we’re with friends. That’s not good. That’s what the Pharisees did. The Pharisees excluded people because “they” didn’t measure up. That’s what we have to think about. I think we have to be very careful about the status quo and what we think is appropriate and proper and required of others before we would accept them. Like asking them to dinner. You may have heard about the 1967 movie, “Guess who’s coming to dinner?” It was about a young white woman who is engaged to a black man and has to bring him home to meet mom and dad who don’t know he’s black. That might be a good way for us to picture the situation. Who would make us uncomfortable if they were seated around our dinner table? And when we consider who might be in that group, let’s just remember that for the Pharisees, at least one of “those” people was Jesus! That’s the mess we get ourselves into when we become privileged.