Readings: Ephesians 1:1-10; Psalm 98; Luke 11:47-54
In Luke's account, Jesus is invariably gentler than he is presented in Matthew or in Mark, whether in regard to the apostles and disciples or in regard to the enemies of Jesus. But of course the end result is the same: Jesus is crucified. Today's gospel contains woes against various elements in the religious authorities, as incisive if not as insulting as the woes against the scribes and Pharisees that we find in Matthew 23. And the end result is the same: they are increasingly angry with him and with what he is saying about them to the people.
Here they are described as 'scholars of the law' and 'those who build the monuments of the prophets' but it is the same scribes and Pharisees who see that the criticisms are leveled against them and who react accordingly. The scholars of the law have taken away the key of knowledge, not entering themselves but not allowing anybody else to enter either. A less clearly defined group, those who build the monuments of the prophets, are those who support prophets as long as they are dead but whenever a living prophet arises will be among the first to make sure he is silenced.
Religious teachers and authorities have to listen carefully to these words and examine their own thoughts, words, deeds and omissions in the light of them. Just like everybody else, and even more so, they are called to repent and to position themselves in God's way of bringing in the kingdom of grace. The challenge to them is to remain open to the Spirit who breathes where he will and who cannot be confined to particular institutions or doctrines or practices. And yet it is the same Spirit who establishes and animates the institutions and doctrines and practices in which the relationship with God is lived and understood and celebrated.
It is too simple to set up here an easy contrast between Judaism and Christianity. It is too easy also to set up an easy contrast between institutional types and charismatic types, or between priestly types and prophetic types, between radicals who are faithful to the wild call of the gospel and liberals who will always be at hand to anoint the bodies of dead prophets and to bury martyred apostles. Often the best we can manage is to live between such polarities, making efforts to keep people together, complementing each other in the ways in which they bear witness to the truth of God.
But the mystery of God's will is that all things are summed up in Christ. It is Christ who is the recapitulation of all things. We are not going to do it no matter what our political or intellectual achievements. It is Christ who brings all together, opening the door of knowledge and revealing the glory of God's grace. We are not going to do it no matter what our institutional structures, our grand strategies or our good intentions.
When the Blood of this prophet is shed, and the blood of this Apostle is poured out, it is the moment of the world's redemption. He is not just one more martyred prophet in the line running from Abel to Zechariah. This dead body is not to be contained in any tomb, to be honoured once a year by those claiming to be his heirs. Because it has been carried to the throne of grace, this Blood flows forever, redeeming and bringing forgiveness. The power of this Blood tears the curtain of the Temple and opens the way to a new knowledge and a new life. This is the Blood which establishes unity between the persecuted and those who killed them. This is the Blood which heals the world's wounds, forgives the world's sins, and lavishes grace on the world.
The preaching of this truth and the testimony to this grace continue to invite rejection and persecution. That preaching and that testimony continue to call us to repent and to change, to position ourselves in God's way of bringing in the kingdom of grace. And that, it seems, will always be some kind of threat to us, a subversion of our comfort, a relativisation of our achievements, a criticism of our best intentions, changes in our way of living. Only the Spirit, who has spoken through the prophets, will keep us on this road of repentance, ready to learn and to change again, the Spirit who bears witness with the water and the Blood to the riches of God's grace.