Jesus’ Life and Ministry
Dining With a Pharisee
AFTER Jesus answers critics who question the source of his power to heal a man who could not talk, a Pharisee invites him to dinner. Before they eat, the Pharisees engage in the ritual of washing their hands up to the elbow. They do this before and after a meal and even between courses. Although the tradition does not violate God’s written law, it goes beyond what God requires in the matter of ceremonial cleanness.
When Jesus fails to observe the tradition, his host is surprised. Even though his surprise may not be expressed verbally, Jesus detects it and says: “Now you Pharisees, you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but the inside of you is full of plunder and wickedness. Unreasonable persons! He that made the outside made also the inside, did he not?”
Jesus thus exposes the hypocrisy of the Pharisees who ritualistically wash their hands but fail to wash their hearts from wickedness. He counsels: “Give as gifts of mercy the things that are inside, and, look! all other things are clean about you.” Their giving should be motivated by a loving heart, not by a desire to impress others with their pretense of righteousness.
“Woe to you Pharisees,” Jesus continues, “because you give the tenth of the mint and the rue and of every other vegetable, but you pass by the justice and the love of God! These things you were under obligation to do, but those other things not to omit.” God’s Law to Israel requires the paying of tithes, or a tenth part, of the produce from the fields. The mint and the rue are small plants or herbs used in flavoring food. The Pharisees carefully pay a tenth of even these insignificant herbs, but Jesus condemns them for ignoring the more important requirement to show love, exercise kindness, and be modest.
Condemning them further, Jesus says: “Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the front seats in the synagogues and the greetings in the marketplaces! Woe to you, because you are as those memorial tombs which are not in evidence, so that men walk upon them and do not know it!” Their uncleanness is not apparent. The religion of the Pharisees has outward show but no inner worth! It is based on hypocrisy.
Listening to such condemnation, a lawyer, one of those versed in God’s Law, complains: “Teacher, in saying these things you also insult us.”
Jesus holds these experts on the Law responsible too, saying: “Woe also to you who are versed in the Law, because you load men with loads hard to be borne, but you yourselves do not touch the loads with one of your fingers! Woe to you, because you build the memorial tombs of the prophets, but your forefathers killed them!”
The loads Jesus mentions are the oral traditions, but these lawyers would not so much as lift one little regulation to make it easier for the people. Jesus reveals that they even consent to the murder of the prophets, and he warns: “‘The blood of all the prophets spilled from the founding of the world [will] be required from this generation, from the blood of Abel down to the blood of Zechariah, who was slain between the altar and the house.’ Yes, I tell you, it will be required from this generation.”
The world of redeemable mankind had its start with the birth of children to Adam and Eve; thus, Abel lived at “the founding of the world.” Following the vicious murder of Zechariah, a Syrian force despoiled Judah. But Jesus foretells a worse despoiling of his own generation because of its greater wickedness. This despoiling occurs about 38 years later, in 70 C.E.
Continuing his condemnation, Jesus says: “Woe to you who are versed in the Law, because you took away the key of knowledge; you yourselves did not go in, and those going in you hindered!” The experts on the Law are duty-bound to explain God’s Word to the people, unlocking its meaning. But they fail to do this and even take away from the people the opportunity to understand.
The Pharisees and the legal experts are furious at Jesus for exposing them. When he leaves the house, they begin to oppose him fiercely and besiege him with questions. They try to trap him into saying something for which they can have him arrested. Luke 11:37-54; Deuteronomy 14:22; Micah 6:8; 2 Chronicles 24:20-25.
◆ Why does Jesus condemn the Pharisees and the experts on the Law?
◆ What loads do the lawyers place on the people?
◆ When was “the founding of the world?”