One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.”
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.” 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, lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say. (Luke 11:45, 52-54 ESV)
A soldier on patrol watches his team get chewed up by machine gun fire, and miraculously wasn’t hit. So he stands up from the cover he was using and says, “Ha! Missed me!” and is promptly shot by the machine gun. Such genius is this lawyer, this master of minutia, this detail-oriented interpreter of Moses. He gets the small stuff, the minor stuff, and misses the rather important things by a rather wide margin. Can’t hit the side of the barn, but seems to be able to hit everyone in front it…
The setting here is like the previous entry, dinner with the Pharisees. A Pharisee sees that Jesus doesn’t wash His hands and is surprised. Jesus then takes the opportunity to correct the Pharisee’s entire perspective claiming they are merely exterior believers but interior sinners. It’s meal time, and Jesus is serving up the guests…again! There’s Pharisee “woe” all over the floor, they’ve been criticized right to the core, below the surface, and to the heart. I would think that the “lawyers” in the group would consider themselves in the category Jesus criticizes and be done with it, but no. This guy has to suggest that Jesus unintentionally came close to criticizing the lawyers. Not a bright guy.
Do you wonder how many of the other lawyers threw a roll at the guy who made the comment? The audacious assumption on the part of the lawyer is that Jesus wouldn’t criticize the lawyers. Who would dare do such a thing? For whatever reason (too important, too “dangerous”, too whatever) Jesus wouldn’t dare such a thing. Or would He? In a sense Jesus says, “Oh, wasn’t I being obvious enough? Okay, here’s some specifically for you guys.” Jesus levels blow after blow (or woe after woe) on these experts in Scripture. Not the attention the lawyer expected.
The criticisms include loading the people with burdens they refuse carry and participation in the slaughter of the prophets. That wasn’t bad enough, Jesus then winds up with the charge that these lawyers have taken away the “key of knowledge”, the very thing they were supposed to provide to the people. They have kept others from knowledge and refused to enter themselves. These scholars have hindered knowledge rather than inspired it. Essentially, Jesus describes their complete failure.
So, what’s the lesson? Where’s the application for us? What do I need to do in response? Well, first and most obvious, don’t assume I’m above any lesson of Jesus. But second, and more important, heed the woe! Why not receive the criticism, examine my life, and make changes? Where do I do the minor stuff and miss the greater issues of giving into the lives of others in love? Where do I hide my weakness from others to gain their respect? What do I instruct others to do that I don’t follow through on myself? How do I claim to respect the heroes of faith, but really behave like those who murdered them? How am I hindering faith and knowledge rather than providing the key? Unless I’m willing to sit down to the meal with Jesus and hear His words and receive His correction I might as well be eating dust.
I like minutia. But do I love my neighbor as myself? Do I want the respect of others and do I hide who I am to get it? What if I were to love the unlovable and the outcasts? What do I teach? Am I willing to live the lesson not just speak it? Is it enough to confess that I can’t or that I haven’t? Such a confession may make me more transparent, but does it still burden others with that I refuse to carry? Do I want the “status quo” more than deeper experiential knowledge of God? Am I threatened by change? Do the views of others threaten me? Personally, I think I hide behind my views so that in trying to be more fringe and “out there” in my views, I protect myself from the radical views of others. On the other hand I really enjoy discussion at the edges of Scriptural Interpretation and theology. I don’t know. This will take some thought and prayer for me to really hear my Master reveal the areas I need to grow. It’s time for me to have a meal with Jesus. He says He stands at the door and knocks. Perhaps I should open it and let the meal commence!
What do you learn from the woes of the lawyers?