Jesus and the pharisees
In a similar consistency to the way that He preached the Kingdom of God, he also criticized the clergy of the 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 they 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 clergy in general. This is the way that things have always been done, so who am I to change it?
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 history 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 Gods chosen people and much blood was shed in the first five books of the bible (Pentateuch) to prove this fact. 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. 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, is something that we as Christians need to appreciate.
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. Their expectation was for a messiah that would come riding in the clouds with legions of Angels, not a humble carpenter from lowly Nazareth.
Despite all the signs (miracles) 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.
Refinements to the law that Jesus elucidated on and which the Pharisees rigorously contested:
Ceremonial washing (Matt 15: 1-20). Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees and teachers of the law about his disciple’s failure to keep the religious traditions related to ceremonial washing before meals. 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! It is on this basis that Christians don’t have any inclinations for or against any type of food. There is no food that makes anyone unclean; all that God provides is good. 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 question to ask oneself when determining the sincerity of our teachers is to ask how they compare to Jesus and the apostles. Ask, whom do they mimic, the Pharisees or Jesus (and His apostles)? 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 preachers? 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 one’s 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 be wary. 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; namely that He would rather be merciful than demand atonement through sacrifices). 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 the clergy of the time, 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 (a reference to the son of God). The Pharisees however accuse Jesus of casting out demons by Beelzebub, the prince of Demons (this they do out of Jealousy and even fear since there was no precedent for the miracles that he 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. As for doing as Jesus instructs, an easy way is to simply live the principles of the sermon on the mount available here The Sermon On The Mount Additionally in line with understanding the spirit of the law and the teachings of Jesus and and how they should be followed practically, the Church has penned the Catechism, a book for daily living with specific bible references for every instruction. I recommend it for your study; it will make the bible come alive for you in your day to day interaction with the world.
In conclusion, it was complacency and overall greed that made the Pharisees what they were. This does not however diminish the law and traditions which Jesus said would never diminish in importance; what matters was understanding the spirit of the law, and thus His elucidation on the same.
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