Thursday, May 5, 2011

Matthew 15:12-14 - "Then the disciples came and said to him, 'Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?'"

This is one of those passages that reminds you what an Asian culture Jesus and his disciples lived in. Jesus had just accused the Pharisees of religious hypocrisy and vain worship, and the disciples are horrified. "Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?" Because you don't say such things against your elders, especially your spiritual leaders, and especially in public. The social norms are strict about showing respect and knowing when to bite your tongue. But Jesus seems unaware of these rules, so the disciples try to take him aside and instruct him. Jesus is like that opinionated uncle you worry about inviting over to your dinner party because he never seems to know when he's crossed a line. Even while you're glaring and gesturing and mouthing for him to be quiet, he keeps on going, offending people left and right until the whole table has fallen silent.

Jesus isn't concerned about offending the Pharisees because he's more concerned that the people listening in on this conversation not be led astray by their hypocrisy. That is why he immediately turns to multitudes and instructs them about what truly defiles a man (the passage we looked at last time). Quite often Jesus will tell people to listen to what the Pharisees teach but not imitate their behavior. This time he directly contradicts their teaching about hand washing, calls them hypocrites to their faces, and quotes a damning passage from Isaiah to underscore the accusation. He completely trashes their credibility in front of the watching crowds. It was even worse than watching Seth Meyers roast Donald Trump at the White House Correspondents dinner last weekend.

But shouldn't Jesus care about the Pharisees too? What about evangelizing to them? What about loving your enemies? By offending them he seems to be burning bridges with them instead of trying to reach them with the truth. Interestingly enough Jesus doesn't share our concern about these things when it comes to dealing with false teachers who wield the authority of God over the masses. "Every plant which my heavenly Father did not plant shall be rooted up. Let them alone. They are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit." Yeah, he's pretty much writing them off. Don't even try to convince them, he says. They don't belong to my Father and they are blind. They might even try to lead you astray, and in your blindness you'll follow right after them into a pit.

When it comes to humanity in general, you'll hear Jesus and the apostles will say, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." But when it comes to false teachers and false prophets and tone shifts radically. All you hear throughout the New Testament regarding false teachers is, "Woe, woe, woe to them! Those sons of hell, shameless dogs, unreasoning animals, waterless clouds, stains and blemishes, hypocrites, whitewashed tombs . . . flee from them!" That's because false teachers are people who speak in the name of God but use their authority deceptively to lead the faithful astray. They are an extremely dangerous breed, which is why Jesus never tells his disciples to stick around and try to "work with them" or "come alongside them." Chances are they will lead you to believe you are making progress with them, meanwhile they are sucking you into their deception and pretty soon you end up just as blind as they. So when you recognize one of them in your midst, it is better to drop your heroic fantasies about how you are going to be the instrument of their enlightenment, and back--slowly--away.