Jesus’ style of teaching was pretty common in His day but is pretty far from the western world of academia. Rather than sitting these tax collectors and fishermen at desk and having them copy down notes, He takes them with Him wherever He goes. What He does they witness, what He touches they see and when He speaks they listen. In this experiential teaching method, one of His favorite tools is the debriefing. It is a simple but powerful way of allowing the disciples to discover the truth for themselves. It is a mark of the master teacher.
So, having been confronted by the Pharisees in last week’s incident, Jesus warns the disciples not to follow in their footsteps. But He does so cryptically. At first, the disciples don’t even know what He is saying. But their confusion leads them to a deeper “Aha!” moment. He is not switching them to an apprenticeship in a bakery.
“Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
Now let’s be careful of what we read here. Jesus says, ‘Guard against their teaching.’ In the context of this chapter, it seems to point at the idea that Jesus will prove His identity by performing miracles at their command. In other words, the only way He can prove He is the Messiah, the ultimate expression of God’s rule and authority on earth, is by submitting to their authority. And he will do no such thing.
But let’s muddy the waters a little. When we hear the word Pharisees, it has become synonymous with hypocrisy and we think of them are the polar opposite of Jesus. But in fact, Jesus is in many ways, very close to their school of thought. The early church was often confused as just another stream of Judaism, primarily because to outsiders, they were virtually indistinguishable from other popular expressions of Judaism i.e. Phariseeism. Furthermore, Matthew records this saying of Jesus a few chapters later that seems to fly in the face of what we just read:
“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.”
So which is it Jesus? Do we follow their teaching or not?
Let’s try to parse this out. As keepers of God’s Scripture, what we would call the Old Testament, Jesus sees their position of one of honor and authority. As people who bind an impossible weight of human tradition to people’s backs, Jesus sees their position as dishonorable and dangerous. I think it boils down to attitude and authority.
If the Pharisees continue in wanting God to submit to their authority, their ideology is absurd and their attitudes corrupt. And as far as their teachings enable these attitudes to exist and perpetuate themselves, they are off base. So Jesus tells the disciples to radically avoid such things, lest even the smallest morsel of that thought infect their whole soul.
What can we hold on to? They had an incredibly high regard for God and His Word. Their own conclusions and traditions they came up with led them to erroneous ways of life, but their initial commitments and values were good.
So let’s let God be God. We don’t sit in judgment over Him. Sit humbly at His feet and listen to His Word.
Lord, speak. Your servant is listening.