6. The Pharisees and Jesus
The pharisees and Jesus
In a similar consistency to the way that He preached the Kingdom of God, he also criticised the clergy of th e time namely the pharisees. Jesus criticized and thus suffered opposition from the pharisees and their scribes. Jesus preached the spirit of the law and made refinements to the law to reflect their true intention. Obviously the pharisees were outraged by the claims made by this untrained preacher; who was he to compare to them that had undergone rigorous training from their youth?
The problem of the pharisees at the time is one of being complacent with the status quo. This is exactly what you get in a system that has no challenger. What they were doing in Jesus time is what they had been doing for eons, and as far as we can tell it was accepted as the way that things were done, both by the populace and by the pharisees.This is the way that things have always been done, so who am I to change it? Nobody ever saw the need for change, since as far as they were concerned they were doing the right things.
In their society, it was rare indeed for the name of the Blessed one (God) to be mentioned directly as we do today. His name was reverential and not to be mentioned without due thought (and certainly not by the laity). From him come both blessings and curses (as the history of Israel demonstrates in the Pentateuch). It is from the blessed one that the laws of Moses stemmed and there could be no doubt as to their intention (other than the literal meaning). So for instance if the Sabbath is to be treated in a holy fashion, this means that there is to be no activity. If one commits adultery, death was the recourse, there could be no doubt. If there is doubt, this is a challenge to the blessed one; and who would dare to be seen to be doing so?
It would only take a part of the God head to come to us to further expound on the law and refine it for future generations. For us that have not been raised as Jews, it may be easier to understand, since we do not carry the baggage that comes with being the “people of God”. We are the people of God now as followers of Jesus, but the Jews still see themselves as chosen; and based on the Pentateuch, they are Gods chosen people and much blood was shed in those first five books to prove this fact. The pharisees, the priestly class, were also chosen by God; these are the heirs of Aaron, from whom a priestly class was created to see to the religious needs of the people and it is only them that can man the temples and serve the blessed one.
Their traditions, customs, religious celebrations and so on, go back to Mt Sinai when they received the law, and even further back to the Passover in Egypt. In every household, there is genealogy that can go back to the time of Moses and before. Think about this; that you can name a person from whom you descend that was in Egypt as a slave during the Passover. Or even go further back and you can go back as far as one of the sons of Noah. This is amazing, but common place among the Jews. Their rich history, within which they take instructions from a living God who walked with them for 40 years in the Sinai desert as part of their purification before they entered Israel. Absolutely mind blowing!
It is important to bear this background in mind when seeking to understand why the pharisees could not see what is very obvious to us today. As a matter of fact, while it still remains obvious to us, the Jews still to this day refuse to accept Jesus teachings and still await a messiah. Jesus is seen as a bastard son (they don’t accept the virgin birth), who masqueraded as a prophet.
Despite all the signs that Jesus performed, despite all his teachings, (which we revere) , the Jews clung more to the law of Moses than to Jesus teachings. Admittedly, they only had 3 years of Jesus mission, which dimmed in comparison to centuries of following Moses laws and being ruled by the pharisees (religiously).
Jesus validated the law of Moses, but he did come with refinements meant to adhere to the spirit of the law rather than just the literal meaning. He also shrunk the law into the two commandments, one related to an absolute love for our maker and the other, the GOLDEN RULE, of loving others as we love ourselves.
In Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, there is much borrowed tradition from the Jews. I have never been in a synagogue, but am told that they are all very similar.The liturgy is also heavily borrowed from them. There is much sense in this, after all this is the tradition of a peoples that have had God literally in their midst ( with priests that were chosen by God to conduct the worship/liturgy). The Torah draws from the Pentateuch in creating rules for living. In our case, our Torah is the Catechism. If you wish to better understand why and what we believe and the bible references for such belief please view and study here Catechism Of The Catholic Church (it does not matter whether you are catholic or not; just Christian).
Refinements to the law that Jesus elucidated on:
Jesus and ceremonial washing (Matt 15: 1-20). Jesus is confronted by some Pharisees and teachers of the law about his disciple’s failure to keep the religious traditions related to ceremonial washing. Jesus asks in response why these leaders feel free to use religious loopholes to disobey the clear commands of God, related to honoring their parents (namely encouraging adherents to give to the temple at the expense of taking care of their parents).
Jesus then explains to the surrounding crowd what really makes a person unclean, is not failing to wash their hands, but having a wicked heart. Jesus explains to his disciples that it is not what goes into a person’s mouth that defiles that person spiritually, but vices that come from the heart. Sin starts in the heart!
The actions of the pharisees are driven by greed and pride. Greed in their desire for offerings (which they squander as personal property) and pride because Jesus challenges their understanding of the law (but they refuse to accept since he is not one of them).
In today’s society the first thing I look for when I hear a preacher, is to ask how does such a person compare to Jesus and his initial disciples. Jesus set the standard for minimalist living and being a suffering servant. His motivation was to rescue the souls of men from the devil and his wards. Jesus is clear on the rewards for sacrificing this life for the next, by taking up ones cross (of hardship and difficulty) and following him (see Matt 19:27-30 for rewards of following Jesus). It has been the motivation for the Saints, recognized or not through the ages. Men and women have given up fortunes, nobility, status and so on, all for the Kingdom of God and the rewards that Jesus promised.
The pharisees would be concerned about wealth, which they get from the offerings that come in. They would not adhere to their own teachings, but would expect everyone else to adhere. Does this sound familiar, among modern day pharisees? Society today seems to be obsessed with success and wealth. As a consequence, many churches have made this their theme in order to attract adherents. A connection is made between what one offers and the promise that there will be a multiplication of the same in ones life. Traditionally offerings to the church are for three main things, one for the poor secondly for missionary work and thirdly for general administration. The stewards of these offerings are meant to live minimally, as can be expected of one who lives among the poor and whose objective is heaven and not the earth. They are meant to mimic our founders, the apostles and Jesus himself. If you find that your church leaders live jet set lives and tend to look upon offerings as personal property rather than assistance for the poor, then I suggest you start looking for another church. It is also your responsibility to ensure that your offerings make their way to the poor and disenfranchised, rather than on Gucci shoes and Hugo Boss Suits.
As for reciprocity for what you give, Jesus is very clear. First, God has seen in secret what you have given. Now wait for his reward. It may be given to you on earth and it may be given to you in heaven, or even both. But, I suggest that you simply look upon offerings as assistance to the poor and support for missionary work. Treat the giving as a reward in itself.
Sabbath controversies (Matt 12: 1-14). The pharisees confront him directly over two Sabbath incidents. First Jesus and His disciples pick and eat grain on the Sabbath, and are accused of reaping (a forbidden activity). In response Jesus reminds the leaders that God ranks mercy and compassion above religious ritual (Jesus always kept saying that He would have mercy and not sacrifice). Secondly Jesus heals a man with a shriveled hand on the Sabbath. Healing was prohibited on the Sabbath. Jesus insists that people are more valuable than sheep, which according to the law may be rescued from a pit on the Sabbath. This may appear obvious to us, but for a pharisee, this is going against the literal meaning of the law and a challenge to God. Sensible as Jesus may sound, it would contravene centuries of tradition. Only if they believe that this is God himself that is refining the law would they be more accepting; the problem is that they do not recognize Jesus as God and it is on the basis of this claim that Jesus was crucified.
Exorcism controversy (Matt 12: 22-45). Jesus heals a demonized man, blind and mute. The people are amazed and ask if this could be the son of David. The Pharisees however accuse Jesus of casting out demons by Beelzebub, the prince of Demons (this they do out of Jealousy and even fear; there was no precedent for the signs that Jesus performed). It is obviously an accusation that is made out of frustration, and Jesus warns about the unforgivable sin (attributing the good works of the spirit to evil). Jesus exorcisms demonstrate that he is the stronger man, who binds and ties up the prince of this house, Satan (in reference to the earth).
The entire controversy session begins with an exorcism and Jesus closes it with a related warning. If God is not invited to take the demons place after the exorcism, it will return and establish an even greater hold. In today’s world where the hard teachings of Jesus are hidden, could it be that much of the evil we now see is attributable to demonized people? We have much to fear!
Family controversy (Matt 12:46-50). His disciples or adherents in general are His family. Anyone who does as Jesus teaches, is his family. The church (that follows his teachings strictly) , the body of the adherents of Christ, are his family.