Today, a closer look at the earthly life of Jesus shows us that he was very tolerant toward all sorts of human failure except the ways of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. In his teaching, he used very often a hard language in reference to the life style of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.
To these people, Jesus used a language tougher than the one he used when talking about his own killers; whom he protected as people who did not know what they were doing.
This shows us that the Pharisees’ way of life presented such a serious danger to the teaching of Jesus that he found it necessary to caution his audience not to follow their bad example.
To our present moment, the same words of Jesus continue to ring a warning signal in our ears, raising a number of worrying questions: Who were the Pharisees in the first place? Why did Jesus so dislike their style of life?
Does our way of life have some similarities to that of the Pharisees such that Jesus’ words to them might be applicable to us today? Generally the Pharisees were middle-class businessmen admired by the common man; a fact which made them some kind of opinion leaders in Israel.
Religiously, they gave much authority to their oral traditional teaching, which we now call the Old Testament. Unfortunately the Pharisees sought to obey their traditions in a fanatic and legalistic way. In some instances, they did this to the disrespect of God’s word.
In addition to this, they assumed the prophetic role, hence equating their own precepts and laws to the message of authentic prophets. In different gatherings, they wanted people to follow their petty arguments and their rigorous interpretations of the law without questions.
This confused the common man as far as their role in community was concerned. As if that was not enough, they were very inconsistent in what they taught and what they practised.
In their daily life, they kept a high degree of exhibitionism, always wanting to attract the attention of the people in all they did and said.
This they did in the way they put on, the way they spoke or prayed. In brief, today we would say that they were used to “blowing their own trumpet.”
It is therefore due to the way they behaved themselves that Jesus criticised them very often in public. The list of criticism that he directed to them is some times referred to as the ‘woes of the Pharisees’: like when Jesus criticised them that they were shutting the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces Mat.23:13-14; that they were obeying the minutiae of the law but neglecting the important facets of justice and mercy - metaphorically straining out a gnat but swallowing a camel Mat.23:23-24.
He criticised them of being very shallow- metaphorically cleaning the outside of the cup and dish but leaving the inside full of greed and self-indulgence Mt.23:25-26.
Many times Jesus criticised them of hypocrisy; appearing righteous but actually being full of wickedness – metaphorically like whitewashed tombs, beautiful on the outside, but full of dead men’s bones.Mat.23.23-27.
Whenever we think of the reasons why Jesus used such a hard language toward the Pharisees, we are challenged into examining our own ways of life in order to find out if we are different from them.
If Jesus’ words toward the Pharisees were hard due to the serious danger in the Pharisee’s style of life, then we have reasons to watch over our situation today as far as Christianity is concerned. Is it not possible that the Pharisees may still be alive and well in ourselves?