When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus parables, they knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him but they were afraid of the crowd. Matthew 21: 45-46
The Easter holiday is over and we are all back to our respective place of work or duty. In celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the Son of God, a lot of activities were activated all around the world to mark the holiday. With all the fun been done and over with, one crucial question still needs to be asked; What did Jesus Have Against The Pharisees that they so willingly wanted to kill him? What did Jesus say or do to them? What did Jesus spark-up in them that got them angry and hate him so much for him to be killed?
From the birth of Jesus, even King Herod was threatened so much that he ordered a bloody slaughter of boy babies. The pattern of opposition continued. Early on, Jesus openly predicted his own death. Matthew, a disciple of Jesus Christ explains in his self-titled book some of the escalating tensions between Jesus and the groups who resisted him.
Enemies followed him from town to town, setting traps. Even so, Jesus neither tempered his words nor tried to hide. Instead, he used the occasions of conflict to warn his disciples and the watching crowds against those enemies, whose fury only increased.
Further, into his book, Matthew document that at a point, Jesus faced three different groups of enemies on the same day; two religious sects, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, as well as the political Herodians. Jesus easily avoided their carefully devised verbal traps. In fact, he succeeded so brilliantly that Matthew concludes, “From that day on, no one dared to ask him any more questions”.
SO WHAT DID JESUS REALLY HAVE AGAINST THE PHARISEES?
Students of history, deep thinkers and researchers like myself have always puzzled over why Jesus lashed out so strongly at one Jewish sect, the Pharisees – a group the New Testament mentions 100 times. At first glance, they seem like people Jesus should have liked. They were the most religious people of the day. More than any group, they strove to follow the letter of the Old Testament law. Their very name, meaning “separatists”, hinted at their desire to rise above normal behaviour.
Pharisees were legalists: besides unduly focusing on minute details of the law, they embellished it with their own strict traditions. For example, a person could rise a donkey without breaking the Sabbath rules, but if he carried a switch to speed up the animal, he would be guilty of laying a burden on it.
A Pharisee could give to a beggar on the Sabbath only if the beggar stuck his hand inside the home of the Pharisee so that he need not reach outside. A woman couldn’t look in the mirror on Sabbath day, she might see a Grey hair and be tempted to pull it out.
In the 23rd chapter of Matthews documentation of the life of Jesus, Matthew records Jesus eloquent verdict on the Pharisees. He scored them for being proud and cliquish and petty, and for refusing to admit to their wrongs. External, showy forms of legalism, he said, tend to divert attention away from a person’s inner attitude toward God and other people.
Well, with Jesus been resurrected for 2019 Years now, we need to ask ourselves yet another vital question; ARE THERE STILL PHARISEES TODAY?
As Jesus entered into the last weeks of his life on earth, Jesus polarized people. He boldly contrasted his own teaching with that of his opponents. In addition, he warned his followers about what to expect after his death. Opposition from enemies like the Pharisees wouldn’t fade away when he departed. Rather, it would crescendo until the end of time – the day of final judgement.
Jesus singled out the Pharisees as an example of legalism carried to an extreme. But he wasn’t talking merely against an ancient Jewish sect. His words describe persistent tendencies of human beings, then and now. The errors he mentioned have characterised the Church throughout its history. Christians still battle pride and intolerance and a religion based on works.
Before I drop my pen, you’ve read about how Jesus characterized the Pharisees of the first century, but ask yourself; WHAT ABOUT OUR OWN TIME, WHAT PHARISEE-LIKE QUALITIES EXIST IN OUR CHURCHES TODAY? Let us know in the comment section below.
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