Woe to you!
“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others. Woe to you, Pharisees! For you love to have the seat of honor in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces. Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without realizing it.”
One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us too.” And he said, “Woe also to you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them. Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your ancestors killed. So you are witnesses and approve of the deeds of your ancestors; for they killed them, and you build their tombs. Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ so that this generation may be charged with the blood of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be charged against this generation. Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.” ~ Luke 11:42-52
Prophets were the voices of God's justice in the Hebrew scriptures. They were the ones who let the kings and powers that be know when they were not living up to God's law and God's just desires.
In Jesus day, the religious leaders, lawyers, scribes, etc, could look back at God's prophets in a historical way - lauding them the way we might laud the leaders of justice in our more modern history: Martin Luther King, Jr, Gandhi, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Nelson Mandela, Eleanor Roosevelt, Clarence Darrow, Helen Keller, Albert Einstein, etc.
Yet simply to laud them isn't what it's about, as Jesus passionately points out.
Prophets were usually killed for their efforts, or at least suffered. And the Pharisees and lawyers that Jesus confronts are all too happy to ignore what the prophets truly stood for. And by doing so, Jesus points to the blood on their hands.
Justice isn't something to look back on fondly, as if it has already been accomplished. God's desires for justice for the marginalized, the poor, the helpless, and the outcasts, is never ending. And to live into that is the best way to honor the prophets of the past, both ancient and more recent.
Holy God, move me toward justice, mercy, and humility in all my dealings with your people. Amen