Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
“‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’” Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”
Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”
He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”
Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”
“Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”
- – Matthew 15:1-20
We are taught to love our enemies. Jesus taught loving our enemies in the Sermon on the Mount, but here, Jesus is antagonizing His enemies.
Jesus boldly calls out the Pharisees for hiding their money so that they had a ready excuse when family would call upon them for a loan. In studying the concept of ‘devoted to God,’ you find that the Pharisees still had control of their money. They could use it, but in claiming assets, it wasn’t theirs; it was devoted to God. It’s like registering your car in your two-year-old’s name so that you can claim to the government that you have no assets. Not that anybody does that.
Jesus quotes Isaiah 29:13. While this verse is taken as a curse, the second half is the crux of the Jesus v. Pharisee feud. The Pharisees were calling Jesus and His disciples out on man-made rules. God may have specified some form of cleanliness, but the Pharisees added their interpretation so that each activity required detailed ceremonies. Since they made up the rules, they had the option of applying exemptions for themselves, when necessary. Yet, the common folk were held to the letter of their made-up rules.
This type of false piety was the opposite of what Jesus is about. He wants a relationship with those who believe in Him. That is all God ever wants of us. He doesn’t want followers of silly rules; He wants people to want Him and be sufficient in Him.
But let’s look at Jesus’ feud. After saying to love your enemies, why insult the Pharisees? Some of the learned people of the time spent time to really think about what Jesus was saying. Even while among those being insulted, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus must have realized what Jesus was really saying. Or they would not have risked their lives and reputations by providing a decent burial for Jesus. You could say that they understood, in part, the hard lessons that Jesus taught.
But also, Jesus antagonized the Pharisees to set up His crucifixion. Jesus knew what would happen if He boldly challenged the Pharisees. He knew that they would not stop short of murder. It wasn’t just coincidence that Lazarus died when he did. Jesus knew Lazarus rising from the dead, that close to Jerusalem, would be the tipping point. Jesus was crucified by the overly religious. It was religion for religion’s sake. It was all pomp and circumstance, but no soul.
Have you ever asked why Jesus had Judas Iscariot among the twelve, and in charge of the money bag? Jesus knew Judas’ heart. But like so many that are hangers on over the past 2,000 years, Judas was just the first to be that close and miss the mark. It was like the first time I ever fired a military 45 caliber pistol. I asked range control if I hit the target. I was told that I missed the target, missed the paper the target was printed on, missed the telephone pole the paper was stapled to, and I might have missed the safety berm behind the pole. I think the last was a stretch. (Note: Give me something other than a large caliber pistol and I was at least Sharpshooter or Expert.) But that was how badly Judas missed the mark, and he was in the presence of Jesus Himself. How can we get frustrated with those near us, when they see us as hypocrites for saying we believe in an unseen God? Yet, we get frustrated, because we love them.
Jesus taught by example. Antagonizing enemies is one lesson that we cannot follow Jesus as He showed the example. We are to love our enemies, and those who do not believe. We may show our frustration at times, but it is best to hide the frustration when possible.
It is not a matter of whether they plot to kill us. That might happen. It is a matter of their life or death, but they don’t see it that way. I am guilty of getting frustrated. I beg the Lord’s forgiveness.
God will judge. We need to leave that up to Him.
I may be rough around the edges, but I try not to offend. In all things, we need to remember:
Soli Deo Gloria. Glory to God Alone.