Jesus’ Life and Ministry
Jesus Denounces His Opposers
JESUS has so thoroughly confounded his religious opposers that they fear to ask him anything further. So he takes the initiative to expose their ignorance. “What do you think about the Christ?” he inquires. “Whose son is he?”
“David’s,” the Pharisees answer.
Although Jesus does not deny that David is the physical ancestor of the Christ, or Messiah, he asks: “How, then, is it that David by inspiration [at Psalm 110] calls him ‘Lord,’ saying, ‘Jehovah said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies beneath your feet”’? If, therefore, David calls him ‘Lord,’ how is he his son?”
The Pharisees are silent, for they do not know the true identity of the Christ, or anointed one. The Messiah is not simply a human descendant of David, as the Pharisees apparently believe, but he existed in heaven and was David’s superior, or Lord.
Turning now to the crowds and to his disciples, Jesus warns about the scribes and the Pharisees. Since these teach God’s Law, ‘having seated themselves in the seat of Moses,’ Jesus urges: “All the things they tell you, do and observe.” But he adds: “Do not do according to their deeds, for they say but do not perform.”
They are hypocrites, and Jesus denounces them in much the same language that he did while dining in the house of a Pharisee months earlier. “All the works they do,” he says, “they do to be viewed by men.” And he provides examples, noting:
“They broaden the scripture-containing cases that they wear as safeguards.” These relatively small cases, worn on the forehead or on the arm, contain four portions of the Law: Exodus 13:1-10, 11-16; and Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21. But the Pharisees increase the size of these cases to give the impression that they are zealous about the Law.
Jesus continues that they “enlarge the fringes of their garments.” At Numbers 15:38-40 the Israelites are commanded to make fringes on their garments, but the Pharisees make theirs larger than anyone else does. Everything is done for show! “They like the most prominent place,” Jesus decries.
Sadly, his own disciples have been affected by this desire for prominence. So he counsels: “But you, do not you be called Rabbi, for one is your teacher, whereas all you are brothers. Moreover, do not call anyone your father on earth, for one is your Father, the heavenly One. Neither be called ‘leaders,’ for your Leader is one, the Christ.” The disciples must rid themselves of the desire to be number one! “The greatest one among you must be your minister,” Jesus admonishes.
He next pronounces a series of woes on the scribes and the Pharisees, repeatedly calling them hypocrites. They “shut up the kingdom of the heavens before men,” he says, and “they are the ones devouring the houses of the widows and for a pretext making long prayers.”
“Woe to you, blind guides,” Jesus says. He condemns the Pharisees’ lack of spiritual values, as shown by the arbitrary distinctions they make. For example, they say, ‘It is nothing if anyone swears by the temple, but one is under obligation if he swears by the gold of the temple.’ By their putting more emphasis on the gold of the temple than on the spiritual value of that place of worship, they reveal their moral blindness.
Then, as he did earlier, Jesus condemns the Pharisees for neglecting “the weightier matters of the Law, namely, justice and mercy and faithfulness” while giving great attention to paying a tithe, or tenth part, of insignificant herbs.
Jesus calls the Pharisees “blind guides, who strain out the gnat but gulp down the camel!” They strain a gnat from their wine, not simply because it is an insect, but because it is ceremonially unclean. Yet, their disregarding the weightier matters of the Law is comparable to swallowing a camel, also a ceremonially unclean animal. Matthew 22:41–23:24; Mark 12:35-40; Luke 20:41-47; Leviticus 11:4, 21-24.
◆ Why are the Pharisees silent when Jesus questions them about what David said in Psalm 110?
◆ Why do the Pharisees enlarge their Scripture-containing cases and the fringes on their garments?
◆ What counsel does Jesus give his disciples?
◆ What arbitrary distinctions do the Pharisees make, and how does Jesus condemn them for neglecting weightier matters?