Wednesday in the Seventeenth Week of Ordinary Time

Luke 11:37-54

Holiness and Hypocrisy

The more I read the Bible, the more I see that holiness means more than anything else.  I do not say this to detract from evangelism, as this is of importance to evangelicals.  But we may be sure that those who strive to walk before the Lord in holiness will be evangelists both in word and deed.

Before us today are the Pharisees and lawyers, and their blatant hypocrisy.  A Pharisee invited Jesus to dine with him, which proved to be a huge mistake.  He was astonished that Jesus did not wash his hands before eating.  (You see the same concern in Mark 7:1-23.)  It was a matter of following the extra-biblical tradition of the elders, not hygiene.  This allows Jesus to begin his sermon.  The Pharisees were majoring on minors: washing the outside of the cup while not showing concern for the inside, which was a metaphor for their own unwashed hearts; tithing but showing no concern for justice or hospitality for the poor or outcast; and finally, being more concerned for looking good than being good.  And the lawyers were even worse: burdening the people with meticulous laws that they didn’t follow themselves; building the tombs of the prophets that their own fathers killed, which was probably a reference to the prophet standing before them whom they would soon murder just as their fathers had done before.

Jesus had strong words for them.  Their religion was all a show, a presentation, a shadow without substance.  There was no love, no concern, no compassion for the needy, for those drowning in sin.  And how does the church in America stack up?  I do not believe our trouble is legalism, as some may protest.  I once read where C. S. Lewis said that one of the devil’s most insidious tricks is to make a church think that its biggest problem is exactly the opposite of what it really is (Screwtape Letters, I think).  I see churches more concerned for the entertainment value of their “productions,” who think that they are to provide a “worship experience” for their customers, who have allowed the consumer mentality, market approach, and business model to invade their sanctuaries (oops, I’m sorry), “auditoriums.”  Things must look and feel “professional.”  Invariably, the chief concern is “getting people in,” numbers, and budgets, and this is how we measure success.  In other words, appearance dominates substance, just as with the Pharisees, only in a different way.  And worst of all, the gospel is watered down as it is cloaked in a garment not its own.  The gospel offends our tastes; it’s supposed to.  And to the extent we drape it in lights and sounds, to that extent we neuter it.  God calls us to be a church, not a troupe.

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