Learning to Pray
1. And it came to pass, [that] as He was praying in a certain place, when He had ceased, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.”
2. And He said to them, “When you pray, say,’ Our Father, who [art] in the heavens, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done, as in heaven, so upon the earth.
3. Give us our daily bread according to the day.
4. And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone that is a debtor to us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’”
The story of Mary and Martha teaches us to put our priorities in order. If we want to serve others, we must first take time to sit at God’s feet. We must return to Him again and again, searching His Word, and prayerfully striving to understand His will.
And so it is that in this divinely ordered sequence of episodes, the very next episode pictures Jesus doing what He just advised Mary to do: He is at prayer. As it is written, “And it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place” one of his disciples came to Him (Luke 11:1). Noticing that Jesus is at prayer, the disciple says to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Interestingly, the Gospel of Luke is the only gospel that records this significant request. It is in keeping with one of the central themes of this gospel—the development of the understanding. In this case it is about understanding how to pray.
Jesus responds immediately, giving them the divine formula for every prayer. It begins with a direct address to the One true God, acknowledging that He is the Father of all. As Jesus puts it, “Our Father who art in heaven.” Next, true prayer acknowledges the supreme holiness of the Lord’s name, which refers not only to a specific name but also to every divine quality that proceeds from God. Whenever we pray for a divine quality, whether it be patience, or compassion, or understanding, or peace, we are calling upon the name of the Lord. 1
After establishing the supremacy of God who is the Father of all, and whose essential qualities of love and faith are available to all, the prayer next moves on to a series of those things we should pray about. Prayer, after all, means to ask, entreat, or beg, and this is the form that the prayer takes.
The first prayer request is “Your kingdom come.” The word “kingdom” here signifies the “kingdom of heaven” and specifically, the divine laws that govern that kingdom. To pray that the Lord’s kingdom come to us is to pray for the opening of our understanding so that we might understand the laws of the heavenly kingdom. Once we know those laws and live by them, the Lord’s “will is done” as in heaven, so also upon the earth. 2
It should be understood that in the original Greek, these are not casual requests. They are exhortations, entreaties, pleas, and supplications all of which convey a sense of urgency. It is as if we are saying, “Lord, I beg you. Your kingdom must come. I need it desperately. So, please, please come into my heart and open my understanding that I might rightly read your Word and do your will. I beg you!”
The phrase, “on earth as it is in heaven” (which is also translated “as in heaven so also upon the earth”) is a simple prayer that there be heaven on earth. While the disciples may have thought of this in terms of a literal king governing in such a way that every material need would be satisfied, Jesus has much more in mind when He gives them this prayer. For example, in teaching them to pray for “daily bread,” He is reminding them to look to God alone as the source of all their nourishment, both physically and spiritually. And He is teaching them to do this every day— “daily.” More deeply, a prayer for “daily bread,” in the spiritual sense, is a humble request that God guide us continually, giving us in every moment what to think and what to feel. 3
As we move deeper into the prayer, we are instructed to acknowledge our sins, and ask for forgiveness. In the words of the prayer, we are to say, “Forgive us our sins.” But in order to receive God’s forgiveness, we must be willing to forgive others. This does not mean that God is holding back, waiting for us to make the first move; rather, God is always at the door of our hearts, ready to fill us with every blessing. But those blessings cannot enter us until we open the door. In this case, we open the door by admitting our sins, and then forgiving those who have sinned against us. As soon as we do this, the Lord’s forgiveness flows in, enabling us to truly forgive others. This is what happens the moment we clear away the resentful feelings, grudges, and hard-heartedness that have been blocking the Lord’s coming into our lives. “Forgive us our sins,” says Jesus, “for we also forgive everyone who is a debtor to us” (Luke 11:4).
Next, Jesus instructs His disciples to add these words to the prayer: “Do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Luke 11:4). It must be remembered that these words are accommodated to the disciples’ level of spiritual development and given in terms that they could understand. While it might appear that God often leads us into temptation and gives us challenges to make us stronger, the reality is that God, who is Goodness and Mercy Itself, never leads anyone into temptation. Instead, He allows us to experience the pain of our own selfishness, the frustration of our thwarted ambition, and the misery that inevitably ensues when we strive to live life without God’s guidance and support.
It must be pointed out, however, that although God does not “lead us into” these temptations, He does allow them. Moreover, if we are willing to receive His assistance, He leads us through them. In other words, God permits misfortunes—often called trials and temptations, knowing that we can learn valuable lessons through these times of trial.
Reflecting for a moment on the divine arrangement of this prayer, it’s important to remember that it begins by turning to God, acknowledging the holy qualities that come from Him (“His name”); then we are taught to beg that we might receive these qualities through an opening of our understanding (“Thy kingdom come”) and through doing His will (Thy will be done”). It is then that we will receive our daily bread—that is, we will be given the loving affections and heavenly wisdom that will sustain us in every moment. Moreover, to the extent that we acknowledge our sins and forgive the sins of others, the Lord can fill us with the love and wisdom that will guide us through the inevitable temptations that will arise when our selfish loves begin to take precedence over our nobler nature.
The arising of these selfish loves and deliverance from them through the power of the Lord’s truth is meant by the words, “deliver us from evil.” This is also what is taught in the Hebrew scriptures where it is written, “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for You are with me” (Psalm 23:4). In other words, God does not lead us into temptation, but He does lead us through temptation by filling us with His love and guiding us with His truth. 4
As we have pointed out before, Jesus often spoke according to the understanding of His disciples. The idea that God leads us into temptation was a deeply held belief at that time and Jesus knew that His disciples were not yet ready to rise above the appearance that God tempts them. So, in this case, Jesus is speaking in a way that is accommodated to their understanding. Only gradually will they be able to understand that God is Goodness and Mercy itself and that He never leads anyone into temptation. On the contrary, God continually teaches us how to avoid temptation, and if we cannot avoid it, He teaches us not only how to pass through it, but also how we can overcome it, and, finally, how we can learn from it. 5
A practical application
As we grow in our knowledge and understanding of God, our prayers will contain both the acknowledgement of God’s power and the acknowledgement of our powerlessness. Moreover, as our spiritual life deepens, we will realize that true prayer is about the spiritual matters of faith and the celestial matters of love—not about the satisfaction of our worldly desires. When this is the case, our prayers might sound something like this: “Lord, please open my mind and change my heart so that I might see others as You see them.” Or, our prayers might sound something like this: “Heavenly Father, when my lower nature leads me into temptation, deliver me from evil with truth from your Word, and fill me with the goodness of Your love. In Your holy name I pray.”
Earlier in this gospel, when Jesus prayed at His baptism, “heaven was opened” (Luke 3:21). This can happen for each of us as well. It is the sacred moment, during prayer, when we feel hopeful, or receive comfort, or perhaps experience a certain inward joy. 6
As a practical application, then, why not try prayer?
On the Importance of Being Persistent
5. And He said to them, “Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go to him at midnight, and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves;
6. For a friend of mine in his journey has come to me, and I have not anything to set before him’
7. And he from inside, answering shall say, ‘Make me not labor; the door is already shut, and my little children are with me in bed; I cannot stand up and give thee.’
8. I say to you, Though he will not rise and give him because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will stand up and give him as many as he needs.”
Prayer is, indeed, a central aspect of our spiritual lives. Without it, our spirits would wither and die. It renews and refreshes us; it enables us to meet the challenges of the day with strength and confidence; in brief, what sleep does for the body, prayer does for the soul.
But we must be persistent. God will not grant our prayers because we are specially chosen, or are members of a particular faith group. When it comes to prayer, there are no “insiders” and no “special friends.” It is a state of being in which we are all equal before God who encourages each of us to persist.
The need for diligent prayer is illustrated in the next episode. Jesus says to His disciples, “Which of you shall have a friend and go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and his friend will answer from within and say, ‘Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you’”? (Luke 11:7).
The story is a parable about our own lives. Each of us is the one begging for bread. It is another version of the request just given in the model prayer: “Give us our daily bread.” The man in bed who will not open the door represents the idea we have of God at those times when it feels as though He is not responding to our prayers. It feels as though “the door is closed.” This is only an appearance, of course. In spiritual reality, the door to God is never closed, unless we choose to close it. His daily bread is always available to us — unless we refuse to accept it.
But in the minds of the disciples, as in our own minds, there are times when it seems that God will not grant our wishes or listen to our prayers. Even as we pray for patience, understanding, and a forgiving spirit, we may yet remain impatient, resentful, and unforgiving. During these dark, midnight-like times in our lives, it seems that “the door is closed” and God is refusing to hand out bread.
Fortunately, the parable continues: “I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence, he will rise and give him as many as he needs” (Luke 11:8). In the original Greek, the word which is here translated as “persistence” is much stronger. In older translations it is rendered as “importunity,” which means “impudence” or “shameless perseverance.”
In other words, we need to be shamelessly persistent in our prayers. While God often counsels us to relax, rest in Him, and be content, this is not the case when it comes to prayer. True prayer consists in persistently living by the truth that we know, with determination and steadfast resolve. Just as Jesus steadfastly “set His face” toward Jerusalem, we should set our minds on doing what we know is right, while fervently praying that God’s will might be done in our lives.
Prayer does not mean that we should spend all day on our knees with our hands tightly clasped together awaiting influx and enlightenment from God. While it is useful to withdraw into prayer, this is not enough. Our efforts to shun evil and do good should be ardent and unceasing. We make these efforts as if from ourselves, knowing that God is giving us the power to do so. As a result, every effort to live according to God’s will becomes a true prayer. Whenever we do this, striving to practice patience, rise above resentment, and exercise forgiveness—while persistently praying for the power to so—subtle shifts will take place in our spirit. We discover that God has risen in us, and is giving us as many loaves as we need.
9. And I say to you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.
10. For everyone that asks receives; and he that seeks finds; and to him that knocks it shall be opened.
11. And [if] a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? And if [he shall ask for] a fish, instead of a fish will he give him a serpent?
12. Or if he shall ask an egg, will he give him a scorpion?
13. If you then, being wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall the Father that [is] of heaven give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?
In the preceding parable, the friend’s door seemed to be shut. But because the man was shamelessly persistent, he received as many loaves as he needed. Similarly, Jesus now encourages His disciples to exercise the same persistence in their own prayers, persistently knocking on God’s door. Jesus tells them to “ask,” fully expecting that they will receive: “Ask,” Jesus says to them, “and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Luke 11:9-10). 8
This attitude of persistence is important. It is hopeful, optimistic, and confident. It demonstrates full faith in God and in His power to give us the spiritual and celestial qualities we pray for—qualities which are summed up in life of faith in God and love towards the neighbor. Though it may often seem to us that these spiritual and celestial blessings do not come to us immediately, or that God does not answer our prayers, Jesus assures His disciples that everyone genuine prayer will be answered. As Jesus puts it, “If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? Or if he asks for an egg, will he give him a scorpion?” (Luke 11:11-12).
In speaking about a father’s love for his son, Jesus is appealing to the parental instincts of His disciples. This is a way of helping them to understand the nature of God’s love for everyone. After all, Jesus has just taught them how to pray, beginning with the words, “Our Father.” Since God is love Itself, it is His very nature to love His children without bounds and to give them everything they need for their salvation.
In this regard, it should be mentioned that “everything we need for our salvation” involves everything that is spiritual (i.e., matters of faith) and everything that is celestial (i.e., matters of love). In this case, Jesus uses the concrete language of the physical world to deliver messages that contain deeper spiritual truth. For example, when Jesus mentions a prayer for “bread” He is referring to love; when He mentions a prayer for “fish” He is referring to living truth, and when He mentions a prayer for an “egg,” He is referring to the start of spiritual life.
Using this sacred symbolism as our guide, we can take a deeper look at the meaning of this passage. Jesus is saying that if people pray for a loving heart (“bread”), God will not give them a heart of “stone.” Similarly, if people for living truth (a “fish”), God will not give them selfish reasoning (a “serpent”). And if people pray for a new spirit (an “egg”), God will not allow them to be poisoned by false beliefs (the sting of a “scorpion”). 9
This is how it is for each of us. Our prayers may not bring about the physical health, financial freedom, or social status we seek—but God will never fail to give us the love and wisdom that we desire. Moreover, He will give us the Holy Spirit—His real presence with us and in us. This is the Spirit that enables us to understand truth and do good. As Jesus puts it, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him” (Luke 11:13). 10
A practical application
In the previous practical application, we suggested that you try prayer. In this application, we suggest that you try prayer again, but this time keep your prayer focused on spiritual and heavenly qualities. Instead of focusing on what God can do for your physical life, focus instead on what God can do for your spiritual life. For example, when you think about “daily bread” let it be a prayer about being sustained by the life-giving affections and noble thoughts that flow in from God. In this regard, you might consider asking God to give you patience in place of impatience, or forgiveness in place of resentment, or love in place of hatred. As you ask for these spiritual qualities in prayer, keep in mind that the only true prayers are living ones—prayers that are enacted through striving to become the person you hope to be. In the process, as you strive to manifest spiritual qualities in your life, as if from yourself, God will flow in with the power to be patient, the power to be forgiving, and the power to love. Eventually, as you continue to act like the person you hope to become, your prayer life and your daily life become as one. Your prayers will open the way for God’s power to infill your actions, and your actions will be your prayers made visible. 11
A House Divided Cannot Stand
14. And He was casting out a demon, and it was mute; and it came to pass, when the demon had come out, the mute spoke; and the crowds marveled.
15. But some of them said, He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.
16. And others, tempting [Him], sought of Him a sign from heaven.
17. But He, seeing their thoughts, said to them, Every kingdom divided against itself is made desolate, and a house [divided] against a house falls.
18. And if Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? because you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebub.
19. And if I by Beelzebub cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast [them] out? Therefore, shall they be your judges.
20. But if I by the finger of God cast out demons, certainly the kingdom of God has come to you.
21. When the strong [one], fully armed, guards his own dwelling, his belongings are in peace;
22. But when a stronger than he comes upon [him] and overcomes him, he takes away all his armor on which he trusted, and distributes his spoils.
23. He that is not with Me is against Me; and he that gathers not with Me scatters.
Prayer is speech with God. We offer up our thoughts, we seek guidance, we ask for protection, we share our heart’s desires, and we express our gratitude. There is no mysterious “language of prayer.” There is simply the petitioner and God, speaking and listening. It is a fundamental human process. 12
But sometimes, we find that we cannot speak with God. We have nothing to say, and no desire to pray. It is a kind of spiritual “muteness.” We read therefore, in the next episode, that Jesus was “casting out a demon, and it was mute” (Luke 11:14). As soon as this spirit of muteness was cast out, the mute person began to speak. The multitudes marveled, but some said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons” (Luke 11:15).
In spiritual reality, only truth can cast out falsity; only good can cast out evil. It is impossible for falsity to cast out falsity, or evil to cast out evil. Jesus assures us that this is indeed the case. As he puts it, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against itself falls” (Luke 11:17). Jesus makes it clear that Beelzebub is not the one who gives Him the power to cast out demons. The power to cast out demons comes from God alone. Therefore, Jesus says, “If I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20).
The phrase “finger of God” is a reference to the Ten Commandments which “were written with “the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18). Jesus is reminding them that His power is from the same God who gave the Divine Commandments, and it is only through that power that He is able to cast out demons. The “demons” are real. They manifest as the many forms of self-love that keep us in bondage, refusing to let us pray or do what is good for others. They are like “a strong man, fully armed, who guards his own palace” (Luke 11:21). When we are under demonic influence, we find it impossible to pray. Like the mute man, we cannot speak with God.
But although demonic influences seem to be strong, even invincible, God is stronger. Therefore, Jesus adds these words: “When a stronger than he comes upon him and overcomes him, he takes from him all his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoils” (Luke 11:22). Jesus, who comes to us with the truth of His Word and the power of His love, is the “stronger man.” Through the truth of God’s Word, falsity is disarmed, and its spoils are divided; battles are turned into blessings.
All this is accomplished when a person decides to be led by God’s goodness and truth. Those who are led by goodness and truth will join with Jesus in the work of gathering together all that is good and true within them. But those who do not choose to be led by goodness and truth will allow unclean spirits to wreak havoc within, them disrupting their lives and scattering whatever is good and true. As Jesus puts it, “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters” (Luke 11:23).
A practical application
Goodness and truth unite us; they draw us together as one family under one God. But evil and falsity separate and scatter us. Will we be with Him or against Him who casts out demons with the finger of God? Will we be among those who gather, or those who scatter? This is the decision that Jesus leaves us with as this episode closes.
Casting Out—and Keeping Out—Unclean Spirits
24. When the unclean spirit has come out of a man, he passes through waterless places seeking rest; and finding not, he says, “I will return to my house from which I came out”;
25. And when he comes, he finds [it] swept and adorned.
26. Then he goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and entering in, they dwell there; and the last [things] of that man become worse than the first.
27. And it came to pass as He said these things, a certain woman from the crowd, lifting up her voice, said to Him, “Happy [is] the womb that bore Thee, and the breasts [at] which Thou hast nursed.”
28. But He said, “Rather, happy [are] they that hear the Word of God and guard it.”
Casting out demons is indeed marvelous, but it is only a small part of the wondrous work that Jesus performs. In fact, if casting out demons were all He did, people would be in worse shape than before He started. We read, therefore, that “when an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of the man is worst than the first” (Luke 11:24-26).
Jesus was indeed able to cast out demons with the finger of God. This is the mighty power of the Ten Commandments in the literal sense, teaching us what not to do—what evils to shun. This is what it means spiritually to “sweep out our houses.” We are not to worship other gods, we are not to take God’s name in vain, we are not to work on the Sabbath, we are not to murder, not to commit adultery, not to steal, not to lie, and not to covet. To the extent that we do not do any of these things, our mental “house” will be swept clean.
But we cannot be satisfied with a spiritual life that is based only on sweeping out and emptying. Our spiritual nature—like physical nature—abhors a vacuum. If our spirituality is only composed of “Thou shall not, Thou shalt not, Thou shalt not,” we will momentarily be swept clean. But we will also be like an empty, unoccupied house that will quickly be filled by “other spirits more wicked than the original one.” Pride, vanity, conceit, arrogance, self-satisfaction, self-righteousness, and contempt will all come rushing in, and “the last state will be worse than the first.”
The only way to prevent this from happening is to fill the cleaned-out, demon-free dwellings with the opposite goods: in place of the false gods that are driven out, the One True God is invited in; instead of taking God’s name in vain, the name of God is called upon regularly in prayer; instead of working on the Sabbath, the Sabbath becomes a day to do good for others; instead of murdering we become life-givers; instead of stealing, we become contributors; instead of lying, we become truth-tellers, and instead of coveting we become grateful for all that we have. In this way, our empty dwelling is filled with gratitude and selfless service.
This episode, then, puts forth a two-step program for our spiritual rehabilitation. On the one hand, we must shun evils as sins against God. This is the first step. We cannot expect God to plant new seeds in our spiritual garden unless we first remove the weeds. But merely removing the weeds is not enough. Like a mind that is empty, anything can and will rush in. The neatly weeded garden will soon be overrun with other weeds, and unless a new crop is planted, there will be more weeds in that garden than in the beginning. Therefore, we must not only shun evils; we must also do good. Casting out demons is only the beginning; we must then begin to serve others.
As this episode closes, “a certain woman from the crowd,” still marveling at the exorcism performed on the mute person, cries out, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts that nursed You” (Luke 11:27). While Jesus does not contradict her, He reminds her, and all who might be listening, that there are blessings that far exceed the miracles that He has performed. “More than that,” He says, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:28). The emphasis is once again, not on miracles, but rather on hearing God’s Word, and doing it.
Seeking a Sign
29. And when the crowds congregated, He began to say, “This is a wicked generation; it seeks a sign, and a sign shall not be given to it except the sign of Jonah the prophet.
30. For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also shall the Son of Man be to this generation.
31. The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation, and condemn them; for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, more than Solomon [is] here.
32. The men of Nineveh shall stand up in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, more than Jonah [is] here.
33. And no one having kindled a lamp puts [it] in a secret [place], neither under a bushel, but on a lampstand, that they who go in may look at the light.
34. The lamp of the body is the eye; therefore, when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is illuminated; but when [it] is evil, thy body also [is] dark;
35. Take heed, therefore, that the light that is in thee be not darkness.
36. If then thy whole body [be] illuminated, having no part dark, the whole shall be illuminated as when a lamp by [its] bright shining gives thee light.”
Among those who gathered to witness the exorcism on the demon-possessed man, there were some who marveled, some who doubted, and some who sought “a sign from heaven” (Luke 11:16). Jesus now addresses this third group, saying, “This is an evil generation. It seeks a sign, and no sign will be given except the sign of Jonah, the prophet” (Luke 11:29). Jesus then recounts the story of Jonah, reminding everyone that even the men of Nineveh repented when Jonah preached to them. And then He points out that “one who is greater than Jonah is here” (Luke 11:32).
The one who is “greater than Jonah” is Jesus, but the people cannot understand what He means. Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale and then was disgorged onto dry ground. This miracle foreshadowed the much greater miracle that was soon to take place: Jesus would be crucified, and then, after three days, He would rise again. 13
Jesus knew that those who demanded a sign would still not be convinced. Signs and miracles may momentarily persuade, but they do not entirely convince. The hunger for more signs and greater miracles continues to increase and can never be satisfied. Faith is much deeper. It involves our understanding, and therefore cannot be blind. It is for this reason that Jesus goes on to say that “no one, when he has lit a lamp, puts it in a secret place or under a basket, but on a lampstand that those who come in may see the light” (Luke 11:33).
Jesus stood before them, as the light of the world, in plain view, but some refused to see. This was because they did not want to see. As Jesus continues, He says, “The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of darkness. Therefore, take heed that the light that is in you is not darkness” (Luke 11:35). 14
When Jesus refers to an “eye that is good” he is referring to people whose understanding is unclouded by selfish desires. When “the eye is good,” people see the truth about themselves, even if it means that they must repent and change their ways. But when the “eye is bad,” it refers to an understanding that is clouded by selfish loves and worldly desires. When this is the case, the mind is full of darkness. There is no understanding because there is no real desire to understand. Even though the person might be shown a thousand miracles, they will relapse, again and again, into disbelief, demanding ever more miracles. 15
In place of miracles that coerce belief, Jesus wanted to illuminate their understanding with divine truth. He knew that a true understanding of scripture can light up the whole mind in the same way that a lamp can light up an entire room. This is what happens when a person has real faith in God. As Jesus puts it, “If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, the whole body will be full of light, as when the bright shining of a lamp gives you light” (Luke 11:36).
This is one of the chief goals of every prayer. It is to pray that God might grant us light so that we might see clearly how to do His will. As it is written in the Hebrew scriptures, “Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105). It is for this reason that David cried out, “My God turns my darkness into light” (Psalm 18:28).
Jesus Does Not Wash Before Dinner
37. And as He spoke, a certain Pharisee besought Him to dine with him; and He went in, [and] reclined.
38. But the Pharisee, seeing, marveled that He had not first washed thoroughly before dinner.
39. And the Lord said to him, “Now do you Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but your inside is filled with extortion and wickedness.
40. Senseless [ones]! Did not He who made that which is outside make that which is inside also?
41. Nevertheless give the things that are within for alms, and behold, all things are clean to you.
42. But woe to you, Pharisees, because you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and pass by the judgment and the love of God; these things you ought to have done, and not to have left those also [undone].
43. Woe to you, Pharisees, because you love the first seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets.
44. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are as sepulchers that appear not, and the men that walk over [them and] know not.”
45. And one of the lawyers answering said to Him, “Teacher, in saying these things Thou insultest us also.”
46. But He said, “Woe to you, lawyers, also, because you burden men with burdens difficult to bear, and you yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers.
47. Woe to you because you build the sepulchers of the prophets, and your fathers killed them.
48. Then you bear witness to and have good pleasure in the works of your fathers, for they indeed killed them, and you build their sepulchers.
49. By this also the wisdom of God said, I will send out to them prophets and apostles, and [some] of them they shall kill and persecute,
50. That the blood of all the prophets poured out from the founding of the world may be required of this generation,
51. From the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the house. Yes, I say to you, it shall be required of this generation.
52. Woe to you, lawyers, because you have taken away the key of knowledge; you entered not in yourselves, and those that were entering in you have forbidden.”
53. And as He said these things to them, the scribes and the Pharisees began to urge [Him] frightfully, and to provoke Him to speak of many things,
54. Lying in wait for Him, and seeking to catch something out of His mouth, that they might accuse Him.
People marvel at different things. The disciples marveled when Jesus calmed the wind and the waves (Luke 8:25); the people marveled when Jesus healed the boy who suffered from seizures (Luke 9:43), and as we have just seen in a recent episode, the multitudes marveled when Jesus cast out a demon from a man who was mute, enabling the man to speak. These were indeed marvelous occurrences. We can vicariously share the wide-eyed wonder among those who were first-hand witnesses to these events.
But, as we have seen, not everyone marveled. Some doubted, and some wanted further testimony. And there were some who stubbornly maintained that Jesus was an imposter who claimed to have extraordinary powers, but who was a charlatan, or sorcerer, or, worst of all, a demon. Even if they were to grant that Jesus had extraordinary powers, they reasoned that these powers could not possibly be from God.
This latter group of disbelievers, nervous about Jesus’ growing popularity, seems to have only one thing in mind: they want to prove that Jesus is an opponent of all that is pure and holy in religion. After all, this is the man who touches dead bodies, heals on the Sabbath, eats with tax collectors, drinks with drunkards and associates with sinners. When they observe Him, their selfishness prevents them from seeing Jesus’ goodness and charity. This is precisely what Jesus was referring to in the preceding episode, when He said to them, “When your eye is bad, your body is also full of darkness” (Luke 11:35). 16
This next episode epitomizes their uncharitable suspicions. When a certain Pharisee asks Jesus to dine with him, Jesus accepts the invitation and goes in to eat with the Pharisee. We then read that “The Pharisee marveled.” We pause here to consider what it might be that the Pharisee marvels at. Is it perhaps Jesus’ miracles? His wondrous healings? His power over the wind and the waves? Maybe it is His miraculous feeding of the multitudes, or the casting out of demons? The answer is none of the above. Returning to the unfinished sentence, we read, “He marveled that Jesus had not first washed before dinner” (Luke 11:38).
Jesus knows what the Pharisee is thinking, and He uses this as an opportunity to teach a timeless lesson: “Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean,” He says, “but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness. Foolish ones! Did not He who made the outside make the inside also?” (Luke 11:39)
The Pharisee places his focus on the fact that Jesus does not wash His hands before dinner. In fact, he “marvels” at this. But Jesus lets him know that washing hands is merely an external act, and that paying too much attention to externals can lead to ignoring what is much more important—our internal. For example, if the Pharisees were not so stingy, and gave alms more freely “all things would be clean” to them. But the Pharisees were not known for their charity. Instead, they prided themselves on “tithing mint and rue and all manner of herbs,” while they ignored the weightier, more important aspects of religion, “justice and the love of God” (Luke 11:42).
Jesus is not saying they should give up tithing, or exchange one practice for another. They should continue to tithe, but they should also practice justice in their dealings with people, and sincerity in their love towards God. As Jesus puts it, “These you ought to have done without leaving the others undone” (Luke 11:42) Jesus also chastises the Pharisees for their love of honor: “Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in marketplaces” (Luke 11:43).
It is clear to Jesus that the outward glory and honor they crave so much did nothing to conceal their corrupt inner nature. They are like rotting corpses in unmarked graves. People might walk past, even walk over those graves, not realizing what a thin veil separates them from the contamination and rottenness underfoot. “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees!” says Jesus. “For you are like graves which are not seen, and the men who walk over them are not aware of them” (Luke 11:44).
So far, Jesus has been hurling harsh invectives at the Pharisees, but says nothing about the lawyers. Accordingly, a lawyer speaks up saying, “Teacher, by saying these things, You insult us also” (Luke 11:45). This is true. The lawyers assist the Pharisees in helping them understand and interpret the law. Therefore, Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees is also an insult to the lawyers.
But even though Jesus is an invited guest at this dinner, and is most certainly violating the code of hospitality, He does not apologize. This is because He is thinking from a higher code—a code that places love and justice above the superficial observances, purity codes, and ritualistic pieties that are instituted and enforced by the religious leaders, but have nothing to do with genuine spirituality.
He therefore returns to His diatribe, this time directing His comments to the lawyers “Woe to you also, you lawyers! For you load men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers” (Luke 11:46). The image of the lawyers turning the blessings of the law into heavy burdens for the people to carry, without “lifting a finger” to help them, is powerful and poignant.
Jesus continues to castigate the lawyers, now accusing them and their fathers of murdering the prophets, and preventing people from enjoying the blessings of true religion. While the contemporary lawyers of Jesus’ day could not have physically murdered the prophets of old (they weren’t alive at the time) their failure to heed the warnings of the prophets nullified the force of their teachings. After all, the words of the prophets contained the key to knowledge. The lawyers had those teachings, but did not pass them on to the people—not, at least, in the spirit they were given. Jesus, therefore, pronounces one last woe: “Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in you hindered” (Luke 11:52).
As might be expected, Jesus’ words do little to change the minds of the Pharisees and lawyers. But He does succeed at making them angrier and more determined to put an end to His relentless and incisive exposure of their true nature. Therefore, as this episode closes, we read that “the scribes and Pharisees began to assail Him vehemently, and to cross-examine Him about many things, lying in wait for Him, and seeking to catch Him in something He might say, that they might accuse Him” (Luke 11:54).
This episode ends where it began—with the scribes and Pharisees “lying in wait for Him, and seeking to catch Him.” Whether it is a matter of His eating with unwashed hands, or saying something that contradicted their understanding of the law, they are ready to accuse and ready to condemn Him. They are ready for anything except to learn from Him. As a result, they are very far from understanding Jesus’ warning, given at the end of the previous episode: “Take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness” (Luke 11:35). 17