A Conflict with the Pharisees
Chapter Three from The Alabaster Jar by Theresia Saers
Among those that came to hear John we naturally also find the Pharisees. Any new statement that pertained to the Law would have to be authorised by them because they were felt to have inherited the seat of justice from Moses. This new prophet claimed that he had his authority straight from Yahweh and such a state of affairs could not be tolerated. John however knows his Pharisees. Although they are among the listeners they never ask him what aspect in their lives they might change in order to prepare for the coming of the Saviour, the Messiah. It would not do to confess that they were less than perfect. John knows better. When they decide to come for baptism he challenges them, Brood of vipers, who warned you to fly from the retribution that is coming? But if you are truly repentant, produce the appropriate fruit, and do not tell yourselves, "We have Abraham for our father", because I tell you, God can raise children for Abraham from these stones... What can they do? Gnashing their teeth they go away, announcing to all and sundry that John is possessed by the devil. When Jesus himself later denounces them in the very same words, they, in their frustration, accuse him of being in league with the devil.
Who are those people that John and Jesus himself use such strong words against them? Undoubtedly they are the theologians of their time. They know their Scriptures and all the comments that later scribes have added in generation upon generation of study and so they rightfully claim to be the accepted teachers of the Law. It is the Pharisees, who try to keep the Chosen People together within the restrictions that oppression by an alien people has put upon them. Alas, some of them have become legalistic fundamentalists that use their knowledge to enhance their own importance and to humble the unlearned, thereby acting against the very spirit of the Law they teach. Jesus himself points out various ways in which the Pharisees have left the path of righteousness.
Paying their tithes of mint and rue and all sorts of garden herbs, they have neglected the weightier matters of the Law justice, mercy and good faith.
- They put aside the commandment of God to cling to human traditions.
- They are the men who swallow the property of widows, while making a show of lengthy prayers.
- They load on men burdens that are unendurable, burdens that they themselves do not move a finger to lift.
- They are like the unmarked tombs that men walk on without knowing it.
We know that the Pharisees do indeed show traits of fundamentalism, because some from among their class, eager to listen to Jesus teachings, are driven to visit him only under cover of darkness. When the Pharisees are confronted with a spiritual leader who pleads for charity and for finding the true significance of the Law, they are driven to extremes. John is the first to be condemned by them as one possessed by the devil, thus we learn from the lips of Jesus himself. Jesus is next.
© Theresia Saers
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