Luke 16:14 – 18
14The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. 15So he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God. 16“The law and the prophets were in effect until John came; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and everyone tries to enter it by force. 17But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the law to be dropped. 18“Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.
The Pharisees stood around, listening to all Jesus said, and they began to make fun of him for saying you cannot worship both God and money. In their understanding of the Law and the scriptures, those who are righteous prosper, and those who are poor have done something to deserve their fate. (Don’t we see that attitude today as well, among those who claim that all poor are lazy and shiftless and unwilling to work?) The Pharisees not only believe that God makes them prosper because of their righteousness; they believe that this justifies their going after riches, at the cost of the widows and orphans, to build themselves up and become richer. And after they do something hurtful, greedy, or selfish, they find a scripture somewhere to justify their actions. The Pharisees misread the law and the prophets to justify their love of wealth.
To make his point, Jesus points out another area where they are misreading the Law and the prophets, and that is in divorce. The Law allowed a man to put aside a wife, simply by saying “I divorce you” three times and putting her out of the house. (This was not a two-way thing; women could not obtain a divorce, and still cannot in Jewish Orthodox circles.) Jesus says the fact that the law allowed it doesn’t mean that it is right. In fact, he says, this is wrong.
Jesus makes a point about the good news of the Kingdom of God being proclaimed – in the place where the law and the prophets were in effect. But, he says, still people try to enter the kingdom by force – and it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for the law to be changed. This seems to contradict the way this particular phrase is used in other synoptics – where Jesus says he did not come to change the law. At any rate, the Pharisees use of the Law for their own benefit and self-aggrandizement is what is at issue here, what Jesus is referring to as trying to force their way into the kingdom of God, and Jesus is chiding the Pharisees for their attitude.
The question for us today is, when do we act like the Pharisees, turning religion into something to be used for our own self-aggrandizement or to justify our own focus on wealth instead of love for our neighbor?