I always find it interesting and also very educational that Jesus only railed against a chosen few. He didn’t yell at the heathens for being, well, heathen; he didn’t yell at the “lost sheep” for being lost or the “sick” for being sick: he yelled at the Pharisees and the Sadducees and other legalists for being hard-headed and hard-hearted.
In Jesus’ eyes, these people should have “known better”, as my grandmother would say. They had the knowledge, but they didn’t use God’s help to translate it into wisdom.
Something was blocking them.
When Jesus burst on the scene, he seemed to have come from nowhere. Those who loved truth immediately recognized him as the Messiah and dropped everything to follow him. He drew huge crowds. He preached and healed. He was The One.
Then he came to the attention of the religious authorities. These were the wealthy Jews who held political as well as religious control over what they called the “rabble”. Initially, the Pharisees and Sadducees were curious about Jesus and wanted to meet him; then they met him and became Jesus’ worst enemies.
What did they have against Jesus?
He knew who and what they were. He could see past their religious façade and wasn’t afraid to tell them so. He didn’t respect their authority because he knew it didn’t come from God. He knew they were hypocrites and he had no qualms about calling them hypocrites to their face and to the world.
We all, as born-agains, have encountered these kinds of self-important legalists. They seem to know a lot about God, but they’re blind, to varying degrees, and the cause is always the same: Arrogance. To me, they have a curious kind of relationship with God – dutiful and ritualistic, but very arm’s length and lacking in warmth and intimacy. They remind me of the petulant older brother in the Prodigal Son parable.
Jesus railed at these hypocrites because he knew the only way he could reach them was to smash through their arrogance. They were so used to demanding and receiving “respect” that it threw them for a loop when someone refused to bow down to them. Jesus railed at them because ultimately he wanted to help them. But first he had to break them.
Some (a very few) were broken, but most persisted in their hardness. They refused to see Jesus as the Messiah because he had no formal education and came from a working-class family and a poor part of the country. His followers were likewise uneducated and from modest backgrounds. This did not fit the preconceived mold of who or how the Messiah should be. Like Satan, the legalists refused to bow down to someone so lowly.
They saw Jesus through the eyes of the world, not the eyes of God. Their arrogance blinded them and also prejudiced them against Jesus. They couldn’t get past his provincial accent and his lack of formal training. He wasn’t in their club. He wasn’t one of them. If he wasn’t one of them, how could he possibly be The One?
Legalists are good at quoting chapter and verse, but so are demons. Following Jesus means more than just memorizing scripture and spewing it on cue. Arrogance is the worst form of blindness because it renders you nearly immune to help, and we’re all here to get help. If we didn’t need help, we wouldn’t still be here.
I can’t imagine knowing God and at the same time rejecting Jesus. But Satan can imagine it, and so can the religious legalists who’ve hounded and harassed and tortured and killed true believers ever since Adam’s son Cain slew Abel. We all, as born-agains, have encountered these kinds of ice-cold believers, and they might even be the death of us, as they were with Jesus. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t hit them and hit them hard with spiritual hammers, while there’s still time. It may be that one of them might yet crack.