The Pharisees are the only group Jesus ever treated as enemies. Tax collectors, zealots for Israel, fishermen, prostitutes, widows, lepers, the lame, Roman soldiers… all of these He treated with respect and even friendship. But the teachers of the law, the scribes, and the Pharisees received nothing but wrath on a collective basis. Yesterday and today, we’ve read about the primary issues Jesus has with them.
Hypocrisy – acting one way while living another. Jesus’ focus on the inward motive, emotion, and beliefs rather than the outward actions stood directly against the teaching of the Pharisees who focused almost solely on the externals. This led Jesus to regularly call them hypocrites, literally “actors” who are playing a part different from who they really are.
Reputation – seeking the acclaim of others. Everything they do, from the way they dress to the way they speak to the titles they require, are for human praise rather than God’s.
Seeking converts rather than disciples – Alan Hirsch, speaking at the Midwinter Conference, said that when we begin with a false foundation of faith, then the more devout we are to that foundation, the further away from the Truth we are. It would be better to be an atheist than devoted to a wrong foundational belief. The Pharisees are not only devoted to a wrong foundation, they are seeking converts to that same set of faulty beliefs.
Worldliness – they claim money is more important than worship, financial stewardship is more important than stewardship of their talents and time, and that anyone who disagreed with them is a false prophet and should be beaten or even killed.
And so Jesus proclaims that however pretty their external behavior, their inside is unclean, dead, and filled with greed and self-indulgence.
“Humans judge others by their behaviors, but judge themselves by their intentions.” As uncomfortable as this chapter may be to read, it is an important call to evaluate your inner life, your attitudes toward others, and your motivations rather than your intentions or even your outward behavior.