19 October
Lk 11:47-54

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." When he went outside, the scribes and the Pharisees began to be very hostile toward him and to cross-examine him about many things, lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.

We have the verb ‘to know’ and the corresponding noun ‘knowledge’, but the verb ‘to witten’, which paired with the noun ‘wisdom’, is now obsolete.  We retain the word ‘wit’, but it has to do with comedy rather than with wisdom.  We are frequently reminded that we have exchanged wisdom for knowledge and knowledge for information.                            
Jesus accused the scribes (lawyers) of taking away the key of knowledge, which in the context meant the key of wisdom.  They were barring the way to wisdom.  “Wisdom has built herself a house….She has dispatched her maidservants and proclaimed from the city's heights: 'Who is ignorant? Let him step this way” (Proverbs 9:1-4).  Jeanne Guyon, the 18th-century mystic, commented on this: “So far from excluding any…, God throws wide the gates, that all may enter.”  But the religious lawyers, Jesus said, had used to key instead to lock people out.  Keys are for opening and closing, but the scribes seem to have specialised in closing. 

George Bernard Shaw said once that all professions are conspiracies against the laity.  Sometimes professionals use their technical language as a kind of barrier.  This happens readily in theology.  Jesus opened a new way, but never used a term that his hearers could not understand.  His teaching was revolutionary but his language was the language of common experience. 

Teachers!  I used to be one.  I had a growing feeling that what I was doing was a kind of inoculation.  I felt I was injecting students with a weakened strain of philosophy, and they were developing the proper antibodies, which would give them a life-long immunity to the subject.  Teaching must be one of the hardest things in the world to do.  As hard as loving – because it is akin to it. 

There is a new kind of teaching – or rather a new subject – and it shows the essence very clearly.  Someone is showing you how to operate a new computer programme.  They will probably sit in your chair and leave you standing beside them.  (If you were teaching someone to drive a car, where would you sit?)  They are likely to delight in showing how fast they can do things.  And they are likely to speak in tongues.  No one displays so much swagger, I find, as the person who can do something with a computer that you cannot do.  But I've seen a few who adjust to your capacity, who have no urge to show off, who really want you to be able to do it yourself.  These are the real teachers, and it is a pity that more of them are not teaching theology or philosophy or literature….

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This page gives a very brief commentary by Donagh O’Shea on the gospel reading for each day of the month. 


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