Woe to you Pharisees! You love the best seats in the synagogues and elaborate greetings in the marketplaces! Woe to you! You are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without realizing it! - Luke 11:43-44 (NET)
Though one of the “experts in religious law” (11:45a) spoke up to let Jesus know that He was being remarkably offensive with His words, Jesus continued on in a way that let these men know, in no uncertain terms, that He found their kingdom-and-light-withholding ways offensive. He goes on to say, “Woe to you experts in religious law as well! You load people down with burdens difficult to bear, yet you yourselves refuse to touch the burdens with even one of your fingers! Woe to you! You build the tombs of the prophets whom your ancestors killed. So you testify that you approve of the deeds of your ancestors, because they killed the prophets and you build their tombs!” (Luke 11:46-48)
As these words are read, one must resist the temptation to fall back into the long-placed trap of imagining that Jesus is railing against their “works-based” religion, while He was heroically attempting to bring forth a faith based upon a recognition of grace. This is not, nor was it ever the issue at hand. By mentioning the prophets, Jesus calls their attention to the underlying message of the prophets, primarily directed at the leaders of the people, which called attention to the failure to properly bear the covenant with which they had been charged, usually by entering into idolatry, and thereby failing to serve as a light to the nations that would draw people to the recognition and worship of Israel’s God---the Creator God.
An inescapable and prominent component of this charge against His people was the neglect of orphans and widows, and it would not be a stretch to say that the elevation of idols went hand in hand with such neglect, as one almost necessarily and axiomatically included the other. Now that idolatry in the traditional sense had been effectively put away and was no longer a problem within Israel, intensification of the demands of the law so as to bring about the establishment of the kingdom of heaven was a new form of idolatry that served to create more and more barriers to a widespread awareness of Israel’s covenant God, leading to the same type of neglect.
The issue was not one of works of the law versus grace and faith, but rather exclusivism and isolation in an attempt to keep the Creator God’s covenantal promises for themselves versus truly functioning as lights for the world and extenders of the Abrahamic covenant. Truly, if one is so caught up in and astonished by a lack of ceremonial hand-washing and conformity to certain irrelevant sectarian prescriptions, how concerned is one going to be to share the grand blessings of the Abrahamic covenant with a Gentile “sinner”?