“In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Mark 7:7)
He mingled easily with the mongrels of his day and the women who sold their bodies after selling their souls. Perfectly at ease in their presence, willing to share a meal or a deep slice of converation, Christ drew them like beggars to bread. The Teacher who healed, the Prophet who listened, the Messiah who served, he welcomed them even while they were aware that their sin-soaked garments brushed against holiness.
Calling children to his side for blessings, he cradled these less-than-desirable members of society and reprimanded his followers who demanded they depart. The King had absolute patience and limitless time for every unwanted waif and leper who approached. Why, then, did one specific group of people infuriate him immensely, causing him to lash them with stinging words as sharp as the whip he would later use to cleanse the temple?
Christ unleashed his harshest condemnation on the Pharisees. Repeatedly, he chastised them, labeling these scoundrels “hypocrites.” Mark 7 captures one such lashing: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me…You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition.”
Matthew 23:13 spells out clearly why they exasperated him. “For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.” Consumed with the external, the Pharisees totally missed the eternal God standing before them. They were busy cleansing hands and dishes without ever taking thought that their souls desperately needed a washing. Christ wanted them to realize, “The heart is deceitful about all things, and desperately sick, who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) He knew clearly the wretched condition of man’s heart, and that outward cleansing could never purify it.
Each morning he awoke with the realization that the cost of cleansing the heart was high indeed; his blood would be extracted in the process. Saving humanity would entail thorns on his brow, flogging to his back, nails in his hands, fists to his face, a spear to his side, and an unbearable cross. Is it any wonder that the Pharisees’ attention to outward cleansing as a means of pleasing God caused him dismay?
Occupied with minutia, they completely missed the Messiah. May we not imitate their stubborn heart and foolish ways.