No Lawyer Jokes Allowed

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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“What sorrow awaits you experts in religious law! For you remove the key to knowledge from the people. You don’t enter the Kingdom yourselves, and you prevent others from entering.” Luke 11:52

In Luke 11:37-44, Jesus spoke words of woe to the Pharisees because they embraced the external demands of the law while missing its internal core of love and justice. One of those who heard Jesus spoke up in response. “ ‘Teacher,’ said an expert in religious law, ‘you have insulted us, too, in what you just said’ ” (11:45). The Greek word translated here as “expert in religious law” is nomikos. Nomikos is, most simply the Greek word for “lawyer” (related to nomos, which means “law”). The New Living Translation renders this “expert in religious law” to specify the kind of lawyer who spoke up. He had devoted his life to studying the Mosaic law, both the written and the oral portions. (The written law appears in the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. The oral law was passed down from religious teachers, especially those in the Pharisaic line.)

Jesus responded to the offended lawyer by multiplying the offense. He offered three “woes” upon religious lawyers, who made the law impossibly hard for ordinary people to keep and who opposed the prophets of God. Finally, Jesus, added one further woe: “What sorrow awaits you experts in religious law! For you remove the key to knowledge from the people. You don’t enter the Kingdom yourselves, and you prevent others from entering” (11:52). Using the metaphor of a door through which one enters into the kingdom of God, Jesus accused the religious lawyers of taking away the key to unlock the door. Rather than helping people into the kingdom, they were keeping people out. In context, this key was the teaching and ministry of Jesus, which the lawyers rejected.

For Jesus, this effort of the lawyers was no laughing matter. This was no time for lawyer jokes. As I reflect upon this text, I wonder what it might say to us. Let me suggest a couple of implications.

First, though I don’t think of myself as a lawyer, religious or otherwise, my particular calling in life is rather similar to that of the “experts in religious law.” I have spent much of my life studying God’s truth and teaching it. I have sought to help people believe and act in ways that reflect the Gospel. As I think about my work, I must ask myself, “Have I helped people enter the kingdom? Or have I kept people out? Have I helped people understand what it means to live under God’s gracious reign? Or have I made things harder for people who wish to know and serve God?" These are questions that all “religious professionals” should ask ourselves, even if we are not called “lawyers.”

Yet all of us, no matter our title and training, are responsible to give to others the “key” that opens up the door to the kingdom. Whether we’re teaching our children or talking with friends about being a Christian, we have been entrusted with the key to the kingdom. How are we using this key?

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How are you using this key? Are you using your knowledge of the Gospel to help others enter the kingdom? Or, are your words and deeds keeping the door closed for others?

PRAYER: Gracious God, thank you for the extraordinary calling to be a steward of the “key” to the kingdom. Thank you for allowing me to help others understand what it means to live with you as King. Thank you for entrusting to me the good news of the kingdom.

Help me, Lord, to be a faithful steward of your gifts. In particular, may I use the knowledge you have given me to open the door for others. Let my words be true and my deeds reflect your truth alive within me.

All praise be to you, King of kings, because you invite us to live under your gracious, transforming, peaceful reign. Amen.

P.S. from Mark

If you would like to learn more about the kingdom of God in the teaching of Jesus, may I recommend my blog series What Was the Message of Jesus?