But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.
Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one.
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.
Paul here offers the basis of his gospel and entire ministry: that all human beings, whatever their race, are spiritually dependent on Jesus. By contrast, today's gospel is similar to the "woe" or "curse" passages of the Old Testament.
Many significant expressions bring depth and Old Testament resonance to Paul's writings, each with its own specific nuance of meaning. Such words include: justice of God, the glory of God, redemption, blood, the law or Torah, choice by God, divine favour, mystery, fullness of time, Christ's headship. For our meditation we choose one of these, namely blood, which occurs in all three readings for today. Through Christ's blood he achieves expiation for all who believe; his blood joins that of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world (Luke). Clearly a positive life-giving meaning is assigned to the blood of Christ.
When Paul writes to the Romans, "through his blood God made Christ the means of expiation for all who believe," he is saying that Christ's death and resurrection have established a bond of life in all who are one in Christ Jesus. The focus of attention is not on the death (even though this agonizing event is not to be overlooked), but on the new life which the risen Christ suffuses into our midst. Because this "life" or "blood" of Christ is so pure, vigorous and divine, we are cleansed of all impurities within our system and are granted a supernatural energy and perception.
Jesus mentions the blood of martyrs in his controversy with Pharisees and lawyers. When he condemns them for putting monumental tombs over the graves of the prophets, it is not that he is opposed to honouring the prophets. Typical of the blood-symbolism, Jesus wants to honour the dead, not so much by concentrating on their dead bones nor even on their dead memory, but by continuing their life and imitating their selfless concern for others, especially for the poor and for others in desperate need; we too are meant to stand up for the cause of justice, for other people's dignity and rights.
Jesus criticizes the lawyers, the experts in the Jewish Law, the Law of God, for taking away the key of knowledge. They have failed to come to know God themselves, as Jesus reveals Him, and have prevented others from coming to know God. Their calling was to be teachers of the ways of God, but they have not been true to that calling. Jesus himself was the key to the knowledge of God, because he reveals God more fully than any other human being could. In rejecting Jesus, the lawyers were taking away the key of knowledge, failing to recognize God at work in Jesus for themselves and not allowing others to discover God in Jesus either. God has given us the key to knowing him, by giving us Jesus. Jesus is the key to the knowledge of God, and we are all learners. Indeed, we will always be learners when it comes to God. The mistake is to think ourselves learned and clever when it comes to God. On the contrary we are more like infants, always having much to learn. Only if we recognize that will we come to know God more fully. That is why Jesus prayed a little earlier in Luke's gospel, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the learned and the clever and have revealed them to infants."