Frills or Faith? – Wednesday, 28th week in ordinary time – Lk 11:42-46

My dear friend, the late Fr Larry Pereira often compared religion to a river, which at its source was pure and clean until the flowing water reached the plains where humankind would throw their garbage in it. One can say this of all religions without exception.

When Moses gave the Israelites the commandments of God, they numbered just ten. However by the time of Jesus the Jews held 613 laws of which 248 were positive, corresponding to parts of human body and 365 were negative, corresponding to the days in a year.

In the Gospel of today Jesus pronounces three woes against the Pharisees and the lawyers. These were members of the religious establishment who had become the de facto interpreters of the law during the four hundred years before Jesus, when the prophetic voice stood silent.

In their endeavour to live devout lives, the Pharisees (meaning separated ones) and the lawyers or scribes (who began as notaries and ended up as interpreters) created a niche for themselves by becoming the ‘go to people’ on all matter religious and in doing so they also began to add their own understanding of the law. The Talmud and the Mishna dating from a period before the Common Era through to the fifth century contains the teachings and opinions of thousands of rabbis on a variety of subjects that were orally passed on till they were written.  

It would be fallacious to think that Jesus attacked the law itself when He pronounces the woes against these Jewish leaders. Jesus does not see anything objectionable in the Pharisaic lifestyle per se. What he objects to is the deviation and neglect of the central commands of God in favour of commonly held practices which of course were human interpretations.  

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