In the last of His imprecations of the Pharisees, the Lord condemns them for building memorials of the ancient prophets.
‘See how learned and pious we are! We frequent these memorials of the divine men of old! They were totally holy, and so are we! Since we have these stone memorials, we can show everyone that we have more religion than the common people.’Christ insists that the monuments stand as empty shells. They had been built on earth to honor martyrs who never basked in any earthly glory. The prophets never reveled in their holiness by frequenting little monuments. The prophets languished in cisterns, or faced exile, or death–solely because they preferred the truth to currying favor with the rich and powerful.
I think we can say that the Lord’s point is:
The only real ‘memorial’ to the holy prophets is a conscience as pure and upright as theirs, a heart as honest as theirs, a religion as humble and obedient as theirs.
The ancestors killed the prophets; they did not honor them. The prophets spoke uncomfortable things, which made the rapacious hearts of the half-pagan kings violently angry. Better to snuff out the voice that accuses my unclean conscience. Because I have grown too attached to selfishness to admit the truth and change my life.
In the subsequent passage of the gospel, Jesus weeps for hard-hearted Jerusalem. ‘I would have gathered you to Myself, like a hen gathering her chicks under her wings. But you prefer your petty egotism.’
Christ cursed hypocrisy and shallowness with even more pitiless rancor than the ancient prophets did. But the Lord wept with a gentle and aching heart for the love that could have been, the love that He would have shared with His people, if only they had been willing to let go of their grasping self-righteousness.
Humble honesty about myself will cost me my ego. But, in its place, I will be able to find the joy of communion with God. To defend my delusions of superiority, I would have to kill the prophet, and make up for it by putting a pretty sculpture over his grave. Better just to listen to him, and humble myself before God.