The issue for Jesus was both individual sinfulness as well as the people’s allegiance to a cultural dynamic of power, corruption, and piety. Especially serious was his charge that the religious leaders rather than calling the people to repentance were undergirding this way of life with religious rituals which abstracted the love of God. The Pharisees identified godliness with keeping themselves clean from the world around them. Jesus profoundly disagreed with this. The issue between Jesus and them was a hermeneutical one: how to interpret what God was doing. When Jesus said to them: ‘Woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God!’ (Luke 11:42a), he was not criticising their religion, he was criticising its abstraction. To be God’s people required incarnate compassion. You simply cannot be God’s and lack love for justice. Compassion is of the essence of God – witness the Prodigal Son story – hence if you are centred in God it defines your essence as well – witness the Good Samaritan story. Prophetic faithfulness, as Jesus interprets it, demands the unity of piety and politics.
The church of Jesus Christ has always been called to take this message to heart and embody this reality. Faithfulness to the biblical tradition demands that we repent, collectively and individually, for having been oppressors and victimisers; for having traded compassion for expedience; for having opted for the security of systems and religious structures at the expense of people’s lives; for having yielded to apparent ‘common sense’ because the vision and convictions we learned from Jesus were not found to be practical; for having resorted to the violence of expedience because we were impatient with God’s patience; for having used our status and wealth to dominate rather than liberate; for having bought into the institutionalized greed syndrome making it impossible to get past our own self-pity. God’s call is for repentance and restoration saying thought Isaiah: ‘I will again do amazing things with this people, shocking and amazing’ (Isaiah 29:14a). – Echoes of the Word, 235-236
For Jesus the community of priests was a community which taught and constantly practiced holiness. His sharpest rebuke went to those who separated the ritual from the practice. If the ritual did not shape the practice it was useless. When it did, it was itself holy. – Echoes of the Word, 237
If our hearers and contemporaries are not convinced by our caring and love for them, then they ought not to be convinced. In compassion and justice we have our being. – Echoes of the Word, 242