Currently I’m getting to know Jesus better by reading the Gospel of Mark. I’m finding it’s impossible to track the life and ministry of Jesus at any level without running into his detractors at almost every turn. In just the first four pages of the book, Jesus encountered strong opposition, mostly from the Pharisees, at least six times. By the third page they were plotting to kill him (Mark 3:6).
Jesus made a lot of enemies. Fast. What fascinates me is who those enemies were. We might expect them to be non-religious people, those who were irreligious or didn’t care about God at all. But in reality the enemies of Jesus were highly religious. There were various religious groups in that time and place–Zealots, Essenes, Sadducees, Herodians, but the sect most often identified as opponents of Jesus was the Pharisees. Here are three handles to understand the Pharisees:
- Pharisees were mostly non-professionals with extremely high moral standards. They were the “good” people of their time. They paid their taxes on time. They scrupulously tithed from the gross, not the net. They never missed a religious event or synagogue class. They didn’t watch R-rated movies privately at home. They never ate a ham sandwich on the sly. They applied the ceremonial rituals of priests to all the people. They prayed without ceasing.
- Pharisees were people of the Book. They knew the Bible backward and forward. They were doctrinal purists. They memorized whole chapters of the Scriptures. They didn’t tolerate error in themselves or in others. They could spot a heretic a mile away.
- Pharisees were energized by politics. They sought to impose their interpretation of the law onto the entire nation. They were a special interest group which pressured both Jewish and Roman politicians to bend to their will.
I don’t have to study that list very long to realize I’m looking in the mirror. Remember, these weren’t Jesus’ friends. They were his avowed enemies. And they were the only people Jesus condemned. That gets my attention. Big time.
The first question is “Why?” Why did the Pharisees oppose Jesus and why did Jesus single them out for condemnation? Why didn’t Jesus condemn secular, non-religious people? Instead of condemning them, he made friends with them. And if we’re just like the Pharisees, is there any hope for us? Fortunately, there is hope. That’s what we’ll talk about this Sunday morning from Mark 7:1-23.
If you want to learn more about the Pharisees, I highly recommend Tom Hovestol’s excellent book Extreme Righteousness: Seeing Ourselves in the Pharisees. This is a very readable book for non-professionals.