Like most other lawyers, he enjoyed engaging in lively discussions and debates. But disrespect was something he simply could not abide.
The dinner conversation started off innocuously. Then one of the Pharisees asked Jesus to join them. To his surprise, Jesus agreed. However, he did not partake in the customary ceremonial washing before the meal. This raised a few eyebrows.
At first Jesus attempted to address the Pharisees’ unease.
His insights were intriguing. Like a skilled lawyer, Jesus questioned the reasons behind the Pharisees’ rules and regulations. Ceremonial washing was not prescribed in Scripture, he observed, but rather a tradition they carried out.7
The outward washing symbolized their need to be clean and set apart. It reflected their desire to be holy. But Jesus claimed the inner man was more important.
If he’d made his case simply and respectfully, the subject probably would have ended with polite discourse. But that was not Jesus’ way. Instead he painted one of his infamous word pictures.
“Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But give what is inside the dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.”
The room fell silent. Had he actually called them “foolish”?
Jesus’ continued his diatribe. “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which men walk over without knowing it.”
Some of Jesus’ statements held merit. The lawyer had certainly noticed the Pharisees’ love of recognition and elaborate embellishments to the law. But Jesus had gone too far, implying these respected religious leaders were hypocrites, comparing them to unclean graves that contaminated others.
As a student of the law, the lawyer felt it necessary to speak up. After all, this slight to the Pharisees also reflected poorly on his profession.
“Teacher,” he said, “when you say these things, you insult us also.” He glanced around at the other lawyers in the room, who nodded in agreement.
Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them. Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your forefathers who killed them.”
The lawyer felt his face redden. Jesus’ comments against the Pharisees had been distasteful, but this attack on his profession was insidious. The teachers of the law brought God’s word to the people. It was their responsibility to instruct and clarify. How would the people know about God’s ways if the teachers of the law did not commit their lives to making him known?
Jesus continued, “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.”
Who did Jesus think he was? How dare he question their ways and practices? The lawyers and the Pharisees escorted Jesus out the door, hurling insults at him, their words filled with loathing and hostility.
As Jesus walked down the path, a strange thought entered the lawyer’s mind. What if Jesus was right? What if their focus was misdirected and they were leading people down the wrong path? Were they nitpicking the letter of the law and avoiding its heart?
The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men. Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.” (Isaiah 29:13–14)
7Kenneth Barker et al., eds., The NIV Study Bible: 10th ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 1560 (notes).
“The Lawyer” is an excerpt from Sara’s soon to be released book, Everyday Jesus.
All photos are courtesy of pixabay.com