Trinity Seventeenth Sunday Morning Prayer (26 September 2021)
In our New Testament portion today, Jesus condemns or rebukes the scribes, pharisees and the lawyers. This is not the first time He condemns religious leaders. When we read the four Gospels, we read many incidents when Jesus rebuked religious leaders. Today’s sermon is based on our New Testament reading, the Gospel according to St Luke 11:44. The verse reads, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them”. There is a reason for Jesus rebuking them. I would like to meditate the reason behind Jesus rebuking the scribes, pharisees and lawyers. It would be helpful to know what they did so we can be careful not to do the same.
What did the religious leaders do?
Religious leaders like pharisees, scribes and lawyers were scholars in theology. They were well-versed in the Torah, which is the first five books of the Holy Bible written by Moses. Let us understand about the attitude of the religious leaders based on today’s reading from Luke 11 and Luke 18.
Luke 18 is a familiar passage to us. Two people went to the temple to pray. One was a pharisee, another was a publican. The pharisee stood and prayed thanking God because he was not like other men. He said he was not like extortioners, unjust, adulterers or the publican. He fasted twice a week and gave tithes of all that he possessed. The pharisee boasted about himself.
- The pharisee wanted to show his greatness before everyone. We are to humble ourselves before God. The pharisee did not humble himself before God. James 4:6 says, “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble”. The pharisee stood and prayed but the publican did not lift up his eyes unto heaven. He smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
- We are not perfect. Ecclesiastes 7:20 says, “For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not”. But the pharisee claimed he was perfect. He gave proof for his own righteousness and tried to establish that he was more righteous than everyone. The pharisee claimed he was not a sinner because he followed the Old Testament laws and commandments.
- When the pharisee was praying, he judged others and compared himself with others. Luke 6:37 says, “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven”. Prayer is communicating with God about ourselves. It is not a time to inform God about others. God who sees our hearts knows all about us, but the pharisee was educating God about himself and others.
In our New Testament reading portion from Luke 11, a pharisee invited Jesus to have a meal with him. He marvelled when Jesus did not wash His hands before dinner. It is a common practice in the middle east countries to frequently wash hands and feet. People do this to clean their hands and feet off the fine dust particles. Jews followed this practice as their custom and gave importance to the rituals and practices. The pharisee did not ask anything, but Jesus knew the pharisee’s inner thoughts.
- The pharisees gave importance to the customs and practices. They were particular about external appearances but not spiritual things. Jesus said the pharisees cleaned the outside of the cup and the platter, but their inward part was full of ravening and wickedness.
- The pharisees gave importance to giving tithe but ignored judgement and the love of God.
- The pharisees loved prominent positions in the synagogues and expected to be respected in the public places.
- The lawyers lade men with heavy burdens that they themselves would not touch with one of their fingers.
- The lawyers took away the key of knowledge. They themselves did not enter and hindered those who wanted to enter.
What is God’s expectation?
In Matthew 6, Jesus tells us how we should pray, give alms and fast. Let us compare God’s expectation with what the religious leaders did Luke 11 and 18.
- God’s expectation is for us to fast and pray in secret. But when the pharisee was praying, he stood in the synagogue and prayed so he would be seen by men. He informed God that he fasted twice a week.
- God’s expectation is for us to give alms in secret. But the pharisee showed off that he gave tithes of all that he possessed.
- Jesus also commanded us not to judge others. We cannot see another person’s heart and thoughts. So we cannot judge others. But the pharisee judged others and claimed he was more righteous than everyone.
- Jesus warned us against doing such lengthy prayers that re not pleasing in the sight of God.
- In Luke 11:39, Jesus said that their inward part was full of ravening and wickedness. In verse 41, Jesus said “give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you.” In Luke 18, we read about a certain ruler who was unhappy when Jesus asked him to sell his possessions and give it to poor and needy people. He did not want to lose his riches.
- The pharisees gave importance to the customs and practices. In Mark 7 :8 Jesus said the pharisees laid aside the commandment of God but held the tradition of men. Jesus said they had to follow both the commandments and the judgement and love of God.
- When preaching about giving to God, Jesus said the widow who gave less gave more than many others who gave from their plenty because she gave all that she had.
- About being the most important person, Jesus said “If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.”
Let us self-examine ourselves. Do we have any of the characteristics of the religious leaders? How is our prayer? Are we humbling ourselves before God? The publican humbled himself before God. He did not compare himself with anybody. He cried, God be merciful to me a sinner. If we humble ourselves, we will be exalted.
Pharisees and the spiritual leaders had the practise of saying long prayers to show their theological knowledge. They thought their prayer would be heard because of their much speaking. But Jesus called the hypocrites and taught us how to pray through the Lord’s Prayer. Matthew 6:8 says, “Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him”. Are our prayers pleasing in the sight of God? Are our prayers and fasting done in secret?
Jeremiah 17:10 says, “I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings”. God knows our true self. He knows our innermost being. Are we telling God about ourselves? Prayer is a two-way communication. Are we waiting to hear what God wants to tell us?
Pharisees were particular about charity and tithe. Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein”. How is our charity and tithe? Are we doing it in secret or in front of the world? Jesus said we should give importance to giving tithe but not ignore judgement and the love of God.
The role of the religious leaders was to lead people to God. But they misled people. Today, we are called to be priests and kings. Are we leading others to Jesus? Or are we a reason for others not coming to Jesus?
Let us Pray!
Our dear LORD, thank You for speaking to us. We are not worthy, but You made us worthy by Your precious blood. You have separated us and anointed by Your Holy Spirit to inherit our eternal life and win many souls for the kingdom of heaven. Help us to be true followers of You. Help us to be humble. Let our prayers, fasting and alms be done in secret and true in Your sight. Let us show You in all that we do. Help us to bear witness for You so the world sees You in us. Guide us to lead others to You, the only true light. In Jesus name we pray, Amen!